Thursday, February 03, 2005

How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America

“As slaves, blacks made an enormous involuntary contribution to economic growth, and thus to the capacity of the economy to generate an industrial order, by producing cotton—the commodity that made up more than half the dollar value of all American exports between 1840 and 1860” (Frederickson 204).

George M. Frederickson in White Supremacy and Manning Marable in How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America are in accordance with the fact that the labor power of African Americans were an extreme driving force to the development of the American economy. In addition, both authors agree to a certain extent that economic discrimination along racial lines during the industrial era were in the interests of industrial capitalists and white workers. However, the point of view of Frederickson and Marable begin to differentiate when one considers the 20th century structures and ideologies of concerned within industrialism, labor, and racial discrimination.
Frederickson and Marable begin their analysis of 20th century labor and racial discrimination using an analysis of both the Black migration and some Marxist theories. Faced with the fear of white lynch mobs and other forms of racial persecution, the massive Black migration from the South to the cities of the Northeast and Midwest began in the early 1900’s. Marable describes the migrations of Black humanity as the actual beginnings of the Black working class. Marable believes that African American agricultural workers were one of the world’s first proletarians because of social structures, culture, labor, and world view. He concludes that there was a division in the world view of this new national minority group in America (Marable 24). In comparison, Frederickson describes the Marxist theory of class formation as former slaves who are transformed into paid workers. Because they lack control of the means of production and sell their labor to capitalists, they should have the ability to develop a similar consciousness or world view to transcend the customary pattern of racial divisions. Frederickson infers that the development of a common world view was destroyed, because of racial pluralism, allowing the working population to become lasting sources of division. Frederickson asserts that the traditional Marxist notion is not a fair judgment of the perceptiveness and intelligence of the white working class and may even exaggerate the “Machiavellian ruthlessness of management” (Frederickson 224). On the contrary, in Marable’s How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America, he states that the agreement of white labor leaders and leftists has long been made that racism reduces the maximum living standards of white workers, dilapidates their unions, and inhibits institutional stability of their communities; racial divisions within the working class hastens exploitation of both Blacks and Whites in the workplace (Marable 44).
To further oppose Frederickson’s analysis of Marxists ideals, Marable describes how whites have sacrificed their own political interests to engage in racist violence and terrorism such as lynchmobs, raping Black women, voting for white supremacist candidates, and even striking to prevent employment of Black workers. Marable uses Georg Lukács’s example (author of History and Class Consciousness) of Marxist theories to come to this conclusion: “Racism benefits the bourgeoisie absolutely and relatively; working class whites are usually apart of the “larger “social mechanism” of racist accumulation and Black underdevelopment, serving as uncritical cogs in the wheels of Black exploitation” (Marable 45). Although Frederickson and Marable differ on their analysis of Marxism, Marable concurs in Frederickson’s confirmation that the conflicts arising between both the black and the white working class were related to a struggle over unionization which allowed employers to create a convenient separation between racial groups (Frederickson 221).
George Frederickson states that white working men have often excluded Blacks when they have organized to protect their positions in skilled crafts, but the demands of labor solidarity have been placed above racial exclusiveness when unskilled or semi-skilled white workers have aimed to unionize industries currently employing blacks (Frederickson 224). Frederickson believes a significant portion of the white working class has had the “good sense to recognize” when racial prejudice and economic self-interest have been in obvious conflict—conflict such as that of white workers aiming to unionize industries already employing blacks (Frederickson 224). However, Manning Marable opposes Frederickson in saying that Whites can obtain cultural and psychological satisfaction from the economical, political, and civil suppression of Blacks without even receiving the profitable and material benefits of racism (Marable 46). Marable asserts that much of the white working class is also targeted for elimination; the processes that threaten the Black proletariat also confront white industrial workers.
Whether white workers as a self-conscious mass will perceive that their own “benefits” from racism are only relative to the oppressed conditions of Black labor, and that the social and psychological image of the Blacks-as-inferior beings actually promotes their own exploitation as well as that of Blacks, cannot be predetermined (Marable 46).

On the contrary to George M. Frederickson’s ideologies about industrial labor, the white working class, and racial discrimination, Manning Marable calls for an ideological transformation of the white working class in order to counter capital interests.

Frederickson, George M. White Supremacy: A Comparative Study in American and
South African History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.

Marable, Manning. How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America: Problems in Race,
Political Economy, and Society. Updated Edition. Massachusetts: South End Press, 2000.