It is no secret as to the general backwards nature of the southeastern sections of the United States. The caricature of the redneck has invaded the consciousness of the masses, convincing many of the “northern elites” that the average southern white working class person washes their klan robes with the rest of their whites in the wash tub. The caricature of the southern black worker is even more caustic and damning.
Leon Trotsky, a leading revolutionary in the 1917 October Revolution, described the theory of Uneven and Combined Development. This theory is key to understanding the development of the southeastern United States in any holistic manner for the same reasons Trotsky was able to discover this law while analyzing the history of Russia. To begin to explain this idea, let us first define this theory and then discuss the history of the US-SE region in respects to the economic systems in play.
The theory of Uneven and Combined Development is an observation of a simple fact: changes in the mode of production in a society happen in some places before others, accelerating the development in backwards societies. These accelerated developments skip steps in the processes of history, adapt ideas to fit into the unique frameworks of the backwards society and thus carry over many of the contradictions that historically challenged the society.
This theory is the most prevalent in US history as the contradictions between the agrarian south and the industrial north began to become more and more acute. Though, it doesn’t begin there. From the beginning of the colonization of the Americas, we can trace this theory’s relevance. As the colonists landed in the still agrarian Americas, they did not intend on adopting the lifestyle of the indigenous peoples who long predated the colonists. Instead, the invading Europeans intended to build the Americas into a reflection of their quickly industrializing homelands.
The settlers built communities and learned how to survive in the alien environment with the help of the Native Americans, adapting their European experiences with the challenges of the New World. Slaves were stolen from the homes and used indiscriminately to transform the American colonies into a Capitalist superpower. In the late 1700s, England began to push for the end of slavery. This was not an acceptable course of action for the American colonies, as their productive forces were still that of an agrarian society. Thus, the contradictions arising from this combined and uneven development boiled over into what we call the American Revolution. This first revolution was intended to not only solidify national identity and independence but to ensure the continued rapid growth of American Capital.
As the northern states industrialized and made the transition into Capitalism, the southern states lagged behind this progress. The reason for this lag is readily obvious for anyone familiar with the history of America: The south clung desperately to its agrarian, slave owning mode of production. This reactionary nature formed an irreconcilable contradiction to the developing Capitalism in the northern states. Capitalism requires wage workers, or else there is no profits and Capitalism does not grow. This understanding leads to the historic conclusion that we see play out in the American Civil War, which I claim to be the second American Revolution as Capitalism cemented its foundation.
The institution of slavery was abolished, but the centuries of ideological development in the southern populations could not be so easily absolved. Though the slaves were free, they held no personal wealth, land or education. Again, the laws Trotsky formulated come into stunning display. The south was not only agrarian, but destroyed by the civil war. Factories didn’t appear overnight and the educated worker required to participate in factory work would take a large investment to develop. For the freed slaves, this left little opportunity to survive outside of selling themselves back to the plantation owners as Sharecroppers. These sharecroppers perhaps experienced less beatings and the previous slave owners couldn’t steal their families away to sell on slave markets; however, their lives were still marked by poverty and violence.
To define an emotion that relates the white slaveowners to the black slaves would be to define fear. This fear exploded after the slaves were freed. Black people were indiscriminately killed by white men who would never be charged, violent hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan terrorized black communities, the police transitioned from slave catchers to violent predators in the black communities. Racism as an ideology was key to this transformation, if the new Capitalist class would emerge from this economic shakeup as the victor. W.E.B. DuBois writes:
The political success of the doctrine of racial separation, which overthrew Reconstruction by uniting the planter and the poor white, was far exceeded by its astonishing economic results.
The theory of laboring class unity rests upon the assumption that laborers, despite internal jealousies, will unite because of their opposition to exploitation by the capitalists. According to this, even after a part of the poor white laboring class became identified with the planters, and eventually displaced them, their interests would be diametrically opposed to those of the mass of white labor, and of course to those of the black laborers. This would throw white and black labor into one class, and precipitate a united fight for higher wage and better working conditions.
Most persons do not realize how far this failed to work in the South, and it failed to work because the theory of race was supplemented by a carefully planned and slowly evolved method, which drove such a wedge between the white and black workers that there probably are not today in the world two groups of workers with practically identical interests who hate and fear each other so deeply and persistently and who are kept so far apart that neither sees anything of common interest.
These historic developments have not sublimated into the inconsequential. In fact, I would argue that they are reaching historic levels of contradiction. The racist ideology has become a foundation to the American worldview. It is systemically installed from early ages, as we fill in dots next to our ethnicity and sexual organs for school examinations or our state identification. These ideological institutions have imprinted racism and misogyny into the working class conscious to such a degree that the ideology has become invisible. The liberal white claims to have left behind the racism of their grandparents, not because they balk at the continued oppression of the black worker but because they no longer say the n word unless it appears in their favorite new rap song. Even then, only if they’re in white company can they sing along.
That is an optimistic example. Across the southeast, white supremacy never died. It quietly lurked in the poorest communities as liberal propagandists spoke of a post-racial society and placed a black man in token positions of power. All the while, the funding of public schools was linked to property value and standardized test scores, drugs were trafficked into the black communities by state agents as a way to destabilize the growing awareness and movement against these racist policies, and to top it off the police targeted these communities with drug offences and violence, effectively destroying the radical communities being built in the face of white supremacist hatred.
There is now an inarguable link between ethnicity, crime and punishment that can be broadcast by those ideologues with financial interest in the separation of the races. White people, thinking themselves as logical, ignore the systems and history that created this situation. They openly embrace racism and fascist ideology, as it speaks to their simple worldview that was calculated by the ruling class. Black people, exhausted yet emboldened in their oppression, see the racist white person as the cause of racism not because of a lack of intelligence but because of an disproportionate level of visibility of the roots. The police are white men, the judge is a white man, the loud and obnoxious customer is a white woman who treats the service worker with a scorn reserved for the service worker with brown skin.
However, this isn’t how the story ends. Late stage Capitalism is rife with internal contradiction, including the race hatred the ruling class has fomented for centuries. More than that is the economic instability that is being revealed by the failures of the capitalist markets and the failures of the state to regulate the greed of the class it represents. Events such as the battle for Wisconsin, Occupy Wall Street, the rise and fall of Bernie Sanders and more point to this conclusion. The studies that show a massively unequal distribution of wealth that has grown over the past few decades, the failures of the housing markets and the impending crash of the student loan crisis will spark revolutionary change.
With the rise of visible, authoritarian white supremacy in the form of the Trump administration, the veil of stability has torn to reveal the tape and glue holding Capitalism together. Again, our leaders intend to scapegoat this failure on the most oppressed sections of the population: the immigrants, the poor, women, black Americans, Muslims and all permutations resulting from these descriptors. A wave of revolutionary consciousness is growing, even in the historically backwards south.
In fact, I argue that like Russia, the south’s economic and socially backwards nature could be the spark that ignites the explosive power of revolution. However, even in our revolutionary groups there are strict racial lines are subconsciously drawn. I’ve been organizing with a radical Marxist cadre for 7 years in the southeast and the average strength of our organization bounced around the number 20. That is not insignificant! However, it was rare when the majority of these 20 weren’t consisting of white and male comrades. In black communities, there are no shortage of radical thinkers and doers who organize their communities around their own empowerment.
How to remedy this psychological barrier is a mystery to me. I half expect it will only be resolved through the ultimate conclusion of Capitalism no longer being able to provide the white male with its psychological wage of superiority, as WEB DuBois discussed. However, this is a nebulous point in our future and we must do something now if we are to prepare to overthrow the most powerful mode of production that Earth has seen.
I propose that we must also view the white male American through the lens of Trotsky’s law. Usually Marxists tend to use this theory to understand situations like the ones discussed earlier; however, these dialectical laws transcend the grand scales of state and economy and penetrate even into the worldviews of the working class.
As Trotsky wrote (paraphrased) , “the privilege of historical backwardness compels the adoption of whatever is ready, skipping intermediary steps.”
White men, the revolutionary awakening of this era of late stage capitalism and our privileged backwards tendency towards misogynist violence, racist violence, homophobic violence fit this description in a damning fashion.
How many of us still use words like “btch”, “pssy”, “ghetto”, “gay”, or “sissy”? Honestly in radical circles and under calm circumstance, I’ve found it to be rare. But How many of us normalize these behaviors with our actions and refusal to engage in productive discourse in the most pressing of moments, when its easy to forget the nice one liners about being feminist or anti racist?
How much of our behavior as revolutionaries is still informed by a racist and misogynist subconscious drive, but is thinly veiled by our discovery of radical politics. This is the combined and uneven development. The ideas of marxism were developed in some of the most brutally oppressive times, when the military and police could open fire on workers and no social media could report it. They address the continued existence of these very same oppressive agents in our society, yet as WEB DuBois wrote the white population in America is largely cushioned against these agents even if it’s purely psychological.
When white male Americans embrace Marxism and the radical ideas that were developed from the dialectical analysis developed by Marxists, we adapt these ideas and twist them to fit our experiences. We use the catchphrases to build a radical costume to wear when our resolve is strong and the pressures that psychologically trigger the embracing of reactionary and violent ideologies are far at hand. But, when the shit hits the fan, how is this weak pseudo radical to react? The dialectical result of this is the “brocialist”.
This is doubly true for those of us who were raised in this backwards environment that encouraged our race hatred, our hatred of women and LGBTQI, our xenophobia. We must confront these ideological programs not with rhetoric, as the liberal does. We must confront these reactionary roadblocks with extreme prejudice, especially in our radical circles. We must understand our psychology in order to master it; unfortunately, the bourgeois class has diligently worked to muddy up the pool.
Distraction, both through traditional scapegoating and postmodernist cultural desires, serve to placate the revolutionary nature of even self proclaimed Marxists. We must build our communities, build radical relations between working class people not on radical party lines but on class lines. We cannot build while we waste our nights drunken and our days recovering. In the same way, we cannot build while allowing ideologically planted discrimination to guide our actions in both times of comfort and in times of hardship.