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Vol. 73/No. 24      June 22, 2009

The Cosmopolitan ‘Meritocracy’ and
Class Stratification of Black Nationality
Chapter of ‘Malcolm X, Black Liberation,
and the Road to Workers Power’
(feature article)
Over the next two weeks the Militant will run in two parts a chapter from the forthcoming book Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power by Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party.

The chapter reprinted below is based on reports presented by Barnes to an April 11-13, 2009, Socialist Workers Party leadership conference in New York and a Nov. 22, 2008, talk by him to a public meeting of some 375 participants held in Newark, New Jersey, sponsored by the SWP and Young Socialists. The book will be released this fall. Copyright © 2009 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

The tongue-in-cheek anointment of William Jefferson Clinton as “the first Black president” of the United States was more than simply a post-cocktails laugh line during a Congressional Black Caucus awards dinner in September 2001. It registered the consolidation of a bourgeosified social layer of African-Americans, a by-product of the increasing class stratification of the Black population and an inevitable perversion of victories won by the Black rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. A perversion reinforced by the credit-fueled capitalist “prosperity,” the good times that began unraveling only in the latter half of the opening decade of the twenty-first century.

Within the Black nationality there had been a significant growth of middle-class and professional layers, even a bourgeois layer—to a degree unthinkable to people of all classes and races in the United States no more than a quarter century earlier. Well before his term in the White House began in 1993, Clinton had recognized the significance of this development for the stability of capitalist rule in the United States, and in particular its importance for the Democratic Party at the local, state, and federal levels. Clinton appointed many more Blacks to his administration than did any of the forty-one presidents before him, or, so far, the two after him. He named nine African-Americans to cabinet-level positions and nine as assistants to the president, not to mention thousands of appointments to other posts throughout the federal bureaucracy.

The Black Caucus members were honoring Clinton for his contribution to the career advancement of their own social peers, not for promoting the economic and social advancement of the toiling majority of African-Americans or of workers and farmers as a whole in the United States.

It’s important for the working-class movement to understand the scope, pace, and limits to the expansion of this layer of the Black population in recent decades.

The proportion of Blacks in the United States with annual family incomes between $50,000 and $100,000 (in constant 2006 dollars) has jumped from 12 percent in 1967 to 23 percent in 2006. Some one in ten Black families today—9.1 percent—have annual incomes of more than $100,000 (again in 2006 dollars), compared to under 2 percent only forty years ago.

As recently as 1988 there had never been a single chief executive officer (CEO) of a major U.S. corporation or corporate division who was Black—not one. Today there are more than twenty. And not of small companies “the average American” has never heard of. Over the last half decade, businesses known the world over that have had CEOs who are Black include American Express, Merrill Lynch, Time Warner, Sears, Fannie Mae, Duke Energy, Dun & Bradstreet, Symantec, Aetna, Oracle, Xerox, and Avis. The most recent addition, the new chief executive at Xerox, is both female and Black.

This is the tip of a new social layer of the African-American population, a layer (as opposed to a large handful of individuals) that has existed for only a generation or two at most. It is different from the small middle class among African-Americans throughout most of the twentieth century: school teachers; preachers at large churches; owners of funeral parlors, auto dealerships, and other small businesses catering to Blacks; and a handful of lawyers and doctors practicing almost exclusively in Black neighborhoods and serving Black-owned businesses.

One indication of the newness of this middle class within the African-American nationality is the lag between the growth in its members’ median annual income—which expanded quite rapidly, once certain racist barriers had been battered down by the Black rights movement—and their median wealth, which takes a lot more time to accumulate and to pass along tax free through inheritance and family trusts and foundations. The median annual income of Blacks is now 62 percent of that of whites, up from 56 percent in the 1960s. For Blacks who are married, median family income is now 80 percent of that of comparable families both of whose adults are white. But the median net worth of Black families (not just those who are married)—that is, their accumulated wealth—remains less than 20 percent that of whites. And a much higher percentage of the wealth held by Blacks is accounted for by a house, not by stocks, bonds, and other capital. In that sense, Blacks, relative to whites, remain “house rich and cash poor,” as the old expression goes.

But that, too, has been changing. In fact, based on government figures, a little more than 10 percent of those categorized as “nonwhite or Hispanic” directly own stocks today (that is, not just indirectly—and for most, insecurely—through limited participation rights in a pension fund, medical plan, etc.), up nearly 60 percent from a quarter century ago. The respective figure for those categorized as “non-Hispanic whites” is 24.7—that is, roughly two and half times the percentage of “nonwhite or Hispanic” stock owners.

A few hundred thousand African-Americans, roughly 0.4 percent of Black households, hold bonds. In this case, the respective figure for non-Hispanic whites is 3.8 percent—that is, nearly ten times the percentage of African-American bondholders. (For the tiny handful of propertied ruling families, bonds—government, agency, and corporate—are the single biggest storehouse of the “permanent” wealth they obtain from their share in the total surplus value squeezed from exploiting the social labor of workers, farmers, and other toiling producers around the world.)

This well-off social layer of the African-American population also has substantially more weight than ever before among Democratic Party officeholders and functionaries. Forty-three members of the U.S. House of Representatives today are Black—10 percent—up from only four members, or less than 1 percent, in 1963. The number of state legislators who are African-American has tripled since 1970, and nearly a third were elected in districts with predominantly white populations. Today Blacks are mayors of some 50 of the 600 U.S. cities with populations of 50,000 or more, while prior to 1967 there had not been a single African-American mayor of a major city for almost a hundred years—since the bloody crushing of Radical Reconstruction.

In fact, this privileged layer of the Black population has become the third leg of the “coalition” that turns out the vote for the imperialists who run the Democratic Party—the other two being the trade union officialdom and the patronage-based political machines of major U.S. cities. The political representatives of this layer have replaced the “Dixiecrats,” the Democratic Party functionaries of the former Confederate states, who prior to the defeat of Jim Crow segregation in the 1960s had for decades formed the institutional bulwark of that racist system and guaranteed the Democrats’ viability as a national party.  
Obama and the ‘meritocracy’
This growth of the Black middle classes and newly enlarged Black bourgeoisie, which rose on the crest of the debt-driven capitalist expansion of the 1980s and 1990s, is a shift that is already largely behind us. Politically it culminated during the Clinton administration of 1993 to 2000.

Despite what is often said in the capitalist media and elsewhere, the election of Barack Obama as president registers not the existence of this social layer among African-Americans but something different in the evolution of class relations in the United States. It’s not “a Black thing.” The Obama administration is a product of the explosive growth in recent decades of a new stratum of bourgeois-minded professionals and middle-class individuals—of all hues of skin—in cities, suburbs, and university towns across the country.

From the beginning of his years in Arkansas state politics in the mid-1970s, Clinton had opportunistically recognized what the by-products of the conquests of the Black rights struggle opened for Democratic Party politicians such as himself. From the outset he actively worked to ensure himself and his party a broader and broader “Black vote.” Clinton’s relationship with the Congressional Black Caucus and bourgeois misleaders of civil rights, labor, and women’s organizations was to some degree symbiotic, but he certainly needed these “brothers and sisters” as much, if not more, than they needed him.

The Obama phenomenon came later and is quite different. Not only did Obama not need to exert substantial effort during his election campaign to win the Black vote, there is virtually nothing he could realistically have done to lose it. The same is true, even if to a slightly lesser degree, among Latinos, and even among student youth, including a sizable majority of students who are white. As a result, Obama’s relationship with the Black Caucus and civil rights and other misleaderships is decidedly not symbiotic; they need him, not vice versa. (The broader Democratic Party congressional “leadership” is another and more difficult problem for the new administration.)

This expanding layer of the comfortable middle classes, whose place in bourgeois society is registered by Obama’s election, is composed of the handsomely remunerated staffs of so-called nonprofit foundations, charities, “community organizations,” and “nongovernmental organizations” (NGOs)—in the United States and worldwide; of well-placed professors and top university administrative personnel; of attorneys, lobbyists, and others. The lives and livelihoods of these growing foundation- and university-centered strata in capitalist society—who, along with bankers and businessmen, cycle back and forth into and out of government positions—are themselves largely unconnected to the production, reproduction, or circulation of social wealth. Their existence is more and more alien to the conditions of life of working people of any racial or national background.

This reality was reflected in the presidential election results in November. Obama, of course, largely locked up the so-called Black vote. That isn’t what pushed him so decisively over the top in the race against Republican John McCain, however. Among the most striking changes from previous elections is that Obama won 52 percent of the votes from those with annual incomes of more than $200,000, whereas Democrat John Kerry had won 35 percent of this layer only four years earlier.

And for the first time in many decades, the Democratic presidential candidate in 2008 won more than 50% of the votes in the nation’s largely white suburbs, compared to the 41% and 47% share taken by Clinton in 1992 and 1996. What’s more, while the Republicans still dominated many suburbs populated by more established “old wealth”—places such as New Canaan and Darien, Connecticut; Saddle River and Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey; or Sunfish Lakes and North Oaks, Minnesota—he tallied substantial margins in towns with larger congregations of high-income professionals, the parasitic users of wealth—places such as Westport (65%), West Hartford (70%), and Greenwich (54%), Connecticut; Montclair (84%), Tenafly (64%), and Ridgewood (56%), New Jersey; Edina (56%), Minnesota; and numerous others. More than 65% of voters in Scarsdale, one of New York City’s most exclusive suburbs, voted for Obama, and Westchester County—the second wealthiest county in the state, and twelfth richest in the United States—went for Obama by a 63% margin (up from 58% for Kerry in 2004 and 56% for Clinton in 1998).

The aspiring social layer Obama is part of is bourgeois in its class interests, its values, and its world outlook. But it is not a section of the capitalist class in becoming. It is not “entrepreneurial.” It is not composed of the owners, top managers, or large debt holders of rapidly expanding new capitalist businesses—factories, farms, technology companies, or financial or commercial enterprises. The long, debt-fueled capitalist “boom” of the past three decades was marked by the stagnation of investment in capacity-expanding plant and equipment, and by an accompanying slowness in the drawing of production labor into the creation of social wealth. This stagnation of capital accumulation, together with the expansion of the middle-class layer we’re discussing, are in fact two sides of the same coin. Its members enjoy high incomes, but very few can or will pass down sizable capital through family trusts to coming generations.

Instead, this is a self-designated “enlightened meritocracy,” determined to con the world into accepting the myth that the economic and social advancement of its members is just reward for their individual intelligence, education, and “service.” Its members truly believe that their “brightness,” their “quickness,” their “contributions to public life,” their “sacrifices” (they humbly point out they could be making a lot more in business or banking) give them the right to make decisions, to administer society on behalf of the bourgeoisie—what they claim to be on behalf of the interests of “the people.” In exchange they get better and bigger homes, obscenely expensive K-through-16-plus education for their bloodline, consumer “necessities,” plus the equivalent of a “law enforcement discount” on all major financial transactions. (The killing the Obamas made on their Hyde Park manse and grounds in Chicago, generously subsidized by a big-time Daley machine fund-raiser, is but one example typical of these milieus.) And believe it or not, these bourgeois wannabes see all this as social sophistication, not the conspicuous consumption of schlock.

While the existence and expansion of these strata are largely divorced from the production process, they are very much bound up with the production and reproduction of capitalist social relations. They have a parasitic existence. To maintain their high incomes and living standards, they are dependent on skimming off a portion of surplus value—”rents”—produced by working people and appropriated by the bourgeoisie. Yet the big majority of them contribute nothing to the creation of that value, even in wasteful or socially harmful ways.

Instead, many of them pursue careers—in the universities, the media, “think tanks,” and elsewhere—that generate ideological rationalizations for class exploitation and inequality (as they strive to “reform” it, of course). Others, whether as highly paid supervisory personnel, staffers, or attorneys, administer the rulers’ efforts through foundations, “advocacy groups,” charities, and other “nonprofit” institutions, here and around the world, to postpone and buffer the explosive social and political responses by working people to our worsening living and job conditions.1

This is a social layer that is insecure in its class position. It lacks the confidence exhibited by the bourgeoisie, even by the nouveau riche bourgeoisie. The propertied rulers—comprising only hundreds of families, not thousands—are a confident class (except during prerevolutionary crises or times of a rapidly accelerating breakdown of the capitalist order). Not only do they own, control, and hold the debt in perpetuity on the commanding heights of industry, banking, land, and trade. They also dominate the state and all aspects of social and political life, and finance the production of culture and the arts, including its “cutting edges.”

The meritocracy, to the contrary, is not confident. Dependent on cadging from the capitalists a portion of the wealth created by the exploited producers, these privileged aspirants to bourgeois affluence—a lifestyle they are convinced “society” owes them—nonetheless fear at some point being pushed back toward the conditions of the working classes. On the one hand, due to their very size as a stratum of society—it’s millions, if not tens of millions in the United States today—they recognize that the rulers find them useful to bolster illusions in the supposedly limitless “careers open to talent” under capitalism. At the same time, and despite their shameless self-promotion, many of them also sense that since they serve no essential economic or political functions in the production and reproduction of surplus value, they live at the forbearance of the bourgeoisie. In the end, large numbers of them are expendable, especially at times of deepening social crisis.

The capitalist rulers are utterly pragmatic in their policies, but they do have class policies. They do what they deem necessary to defend their profits, their property, and above all their class dictatorship. They use that dictatorship—they use their state power: their cops, their courts, their armed forces, their currency, and their border controls.

In contrast, this “meritocratic” middle layer has no class policy course of its own. To the degree they commit themselves to a course of action—often camouflaged as caring, feeling, thoughtful, and above all very intelligent—such policies are in fact derivative of the needs and demands of their bourgeois patrons. Despite the Obama campaign’s mantra of “change,” for example, the Obama administration is relying on exactly the same top Wall Street bankers and financiers as its predecessors, in fact, the very same moneyed interests—even the same individuals—who are the architects of today’s accelerating capitalist economic and financial crisis. And more than any other administration in the history of U.S. imperialism, its foreign, military, and “domestic security” policies are stamped by near total deference to the top echelons of the professional officer corps of the U.S. armed forces.

This is the social layer from which Barack Obama emerged. Not from the majority proletarian Black nationality. Not from the producing small-business milieu, the petty bourgeoisie. And not from the bourgeoisie. It is with the class interests and world outlook of this increasingly multinational “meritocracy” that Obama identifies.

The major “trope” of these wannabes is “irony,” a veneer behind which lies social hypocrisy. The main public “persona” they affect is one of measured empathy (they really “feel our pain”). The main pretension is the clarity of their thought and skill at winning over their listeners (“Let me be clear….”).

They resent their vulnerability in face of the actual holders of capital. It rankles and instills in them a thinly veiled cynicism toward traditional bourgeois values such as patriotism, thrift, faith, and family (that is, values promoted by the bourgeoisie as essential mainstays of social order, not necessarily common currency among the propertied classes themselves). And since, as Marx explained more than 150 years ago, “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas,”2 such cynicism also puts this elect of “intelligence” and advantage at odds with the values and standards held by broad sections of the working class in the United States as well.

Like others in his social milieu—white, Black, Latino, or otherwise—Obama thinks of himself as a cosmopolitan in the way the dictionary defines the word: “having wide international sophistication, worldly.” Sharply different from straightforward bourgeois nationalism (usually called “patriotism”).

After several primary victories in early 2008, Michelle Obama said that “for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country.” Barack Obama himself initially decided not to sport an American flag lapel pin (a decision he later reversed as the contest with Hilary Clinton became nail-bitingly tight in Pennsylvania). And when the Democratic candidate spoke to a 200,000-strong crowd in Berlin last July, he announced he was “a proud citizen of the United States and a fellow citizen of the world.” The Republican right raised a hue and cry over each of these incidents, and—given what has long been deemed acceptable from the standpoint of their class—they had reason for complaint.

The new president, of course, is now showing in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, and elsewhere that his administration will unleash U.S. imperialism’s massive economic power and death-dealing military might to “defend” the national borders, currency, and broader interests of this country’s ruling class. That’s true. But Obama and many others in the meritocracy, of whatever skin color, do not consider themselves, first and foremost, Americans.

That doesn’t mean that those in this layer are internationalists, even bourgeois internationalists, much less proletarian internationalists. But the cosmopolitans do identify with their privileged social peers around the world. They do have a class identification with these layers. The Obamas do care what professors, NGO staffers, attorneys, and other “brights”3 in Paris, Berlin, Rome, and London think about them. They do rely on such support as a counterweight to the ruling families at home who ultimately tell them what they will and will not do.

Above all, they are mortified to be identified with working people in the United States—white, Black, or Latino; native- or foreign-born. Their attitudes toward those who produce society’s wealth—the foundation of all culture—extend from saccharine condescension to occasional and unscripted open contempt, as they lecture us on our manners and mores. Above all, they fear someday being ruled by those they worry could become the “great mob”: the toiling and producing majority. Obama, in fact, aims to protect the meritocracy the world over from those perceived in his petty-bourgeois circles as “gauche,” ignorant, bad-tempered, flag-waving, gun-hugging, family-centered, religious “populists.”  
It’s a class question
What I’ve called the “meritocracy” here is, in large part, what Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray were describing in the mid-1990s in their book The Bell Curve.4 As implied by the book’s subtitle, Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, they were attempting to provide a “scientific” rationalization for the rapidly rising income and class privileges of this particular middle-class social stratum in the United States—a stratum they euphemistically, although not modestly, dubbed “the cognitive elite.”

The authors wrote that while ideological differences, at least in words, would continue to distinguish “liberals” from “conservatives,” and the “intellectuals” from the “the affluent” (“the affluent” being their lingo for the capitalist class and its top managers and professionals), these “old lines” had in reality begun “to blur” on the most fundamental class questions.

“[T]here are theoretical interests and practical interests,” wrote the authors of The Bell Curve. “The Stanford professor’s best-selling book may be a diatribe against the punitive criminal justice system, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t vote with his feet to move to a safe neighborhood. Or his book may be a withering attack on outdated family norms, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t acting like an old-fashioned father in looking after the interests of his children—and if that means sending his children to a lily-white private school so that they get a good education, so be it. Meanwhile, the man with the chain of shoe stores may be politically to the right of the Stanford professor, but he is looking for the same safe neighborhood and the same good schools for his children…. He and the professor may not be so far apart at all on how they want to live their own personal lives and how government might serve those joint and important interests.”

What we can add—something Herrnstein and Murray already knew—is that neither the private school nor the “safe neighborhood” any longer need to be “lily white.” In fact, even well before The Bell Curve was published, that certainly was not the case for the middle-class Chicago neighborhood of Hyde Park from which Barack and Michelle Obama most recently hail, and where they sent their two daughters to a private elementary school at a combined tuition cost of nearly $40,000 a year (a total above the annual income of about half of all families in Chicago, and at least 40 percent of families in the United States).

It is Obama’s comfortable immersion in this arrogant, self-congratulatory, and bourgeois-minded milieu that is responsible for the few “blunders” he made during the 2008 presidential campaign. In comparison to other Democratic and Republican primary candidates, Obama was cautious and disciplined during the campaign. He was determined not to let carelessness scotch his ambitions. That’s why his slips were revealing.

There were his widely publicized remarks at a fund-raiser in April 2008, for example, where he was speaking to a small group of supporters at a home in San Francisco’s exclusive Pacific Heights neighborhood. Obama was so at ease in that company that he let down his guard. His class prejudices poured out for all to hear.

Working people in the small Pennsylvania towns where Obama had just been campaigning, he said, and in “a lot of small towns in the Midwest,” have been seeing job opportunities decline for a long time. “They fell throughout the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are going to regenerate, and they have not. And it’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

We working people, you see, may be “bitter,” intolerant gun-huggers, Bible-thumpers, and jingoists—but that’s “not surprising,” since we’re so insular, beaten down, and demoralized! (By the way, isn’t it hard to imagine a more insular “small town” than San Francisco? Or Manhattan’s Upper West Side? Or Obama’s own Hyde Park in Chicago? Talk about “rural” idiocy!)  
A bourgeois perversion of working-class gains
The fact that growing numbers in this “cognitive elite” social layer are African-American today is something that would have been impossible thirty years ago. That testifies to the expansion of the Black middle class and the evolution of social attitudes we’ve already discussed. What came to be known by the latter half of the 1960s as affirmative action—that is, not simply the concept of equal justice under bourgeois law, fought for and more broadly codified by the mass civil rights struggles, but explicit and transparent quotas in hiring, college admissions, promotions, and seniority-based layoffs—is what broke down barriers that had long blocked large numbers of African-Americans from achieving such social status. And it was the urban rebellions by Blacks during those same years—in Harlem, Watts, Chicago, Newark, Detroit, and smaller cities all over the country—and the rise of Black nationalist consciousness and organizations during that same period, that convinced the U.S. rulers that they had to concede something in addition to formal equality. At least for a time, they had to accept the need for quotas.

Today the privileged layers Obama is part of are proud of being color-blind in a way that is new to bourgeois society in the United States. The glue holding them together is not color but social class—or, to be more accurate, their entrenchment in a certain section of a social class. Whatever their racial or national background or sex, virtually none of them perceive affirmative action as it has evolved today as a threat to their status, and it’s not uncommon for some of those who are Black, Latino, or female to insist, in their own individual cases, that they got where they are without need of quotas.

Affirmative action in the misshapen forms increasingly implemented by the capitalist rulers has more and more been incorporated into advancement of the meritocracy to the degree the bourgeoisie deems it necessary to the maintenance and reproduction of stable bourgeois social relations. Given this supraclass character, the main function of affirmative action as it has come to be applied by the bourgeoisie in the United States is to reinforce illusions in imperialist democracy. It is used to further divide African-Americans and other nationally oppressed layers along class lines, and to deepen divisions within the working class as a whole.

That’s why communists and other vanguard workers explain that while unconditionally opposing the rollback of any programs that would restore racist or anti-woman patterns of hiring, promotions, firings, or college admissions, we give no political support to how the bourgeoisie has implemented what they call affirmative action over the past two decades. What the working class conquered through victories such as wresting the Weber decision in 19795—like other gains by the toilers, if the class struggle does not continue to advance—has more and more often been perverted into programs that provide a golden key for a relative few to enter an increasingly exclusive club further up the income rungs of U.S. society.

With unemployment sharply rising today, and with the jobless rate for workers who are Black more than 75 percent higher than for workers who are white, the victories the working class has won through decades of struggle against racial divisions—divisions that are part and parcel of the workings of capitalism, and are consciously fostered by the bosses to pit us against each other and weaken the labor movement—are increasingly threatened. So long as capitalist relations exist, the fight for quotas in hiring, promotions, seniority-based layoffs, and college admissions—that is, openly stated numerical targets or separate lists for those facing discrimination based on their race or sex—will continue to be an indispensable element in forging class solidarity along the road toward the revolutionary fight by the working class to take state power, hold it, and aid those the world over fighting to do likewise.6  
Contempt for workers who are Black
What is so instructive about Obama’s class identification is not just, or even primarily, his patronizing view of workers who are white. When it comes to workers who are Black, Obama’s attitudes, if anything, are even more contemptuous.

Take, for example, his remarks on Father’s Day in June 2008 at Chicago’s Apostolic Church of God, which has an overwhelmingly African-American congregation. Much of the news coverage of that church service focused on Obama’s remarks about absent fathers, but he said a lot more than that. He scolded members of the congregation not to “just sit in the house and watch ‘SportsCenter’…. [R]eplace the video game or the remote control with a book once in awhile.” (In February 2008, again speaking to a largely African-American audience, he lectured those in attendance about feeding their children “cold Popeyes” for breakfast—unlike him and Michelle, we presume.)

“Don’t get carried away with that eighth-grade graduation,” Obama said at the Chicago church. “You’re supposed to graduate from eighth grade.” (It’s less harmful to workers and farmers than getting carried away with a Yale or a Harvard law degree, but that’s another question.)

And then he scornfully added, “We need fathers to recognize that responsibility doesn’t just end at conception. That doesn’t make you a father. What makes you a man is not the ability to have a child. Any fool can have a child. That doesn’t make you a father. It’s the courage to raise a child that makes you a father.”

Too many fathers, Obama said, “have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it,” he added. “You and I know how true this is in the African-American community.”

It was creepy. It was all aimed at the voters of “white America.” Obama was holding individual Black family members primarily accountable for the quality of the education, nutrition, and health care their children receive. “If fathers are doing their part,…” he said, “then our government should meet them halfway.” Halfway!

1. The trade union officialdom, despite their petty-bourgeois lifestyles and bourgeois outlook, is not really a part of this layer. They are still too connected, just by the character of their dues base and function in capitalist society, to the grit and grime of working. JB

2. Karl Marx, “The German Ideology,” in Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 5, p. 59.

3. In articles published in 2003 in the New York Times and in Wired and Free Inquiry magazines, Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins—university professors of philosophy and evolutionary biology respectively, and both authors of quite profitable best-sellers among the recent crop of “atheist” books—proclaimed themselves the pioneers of a global “constituency” of “any individual whose worldview is free of supernatural or mystical forces and entities.” (Pssst, “we” all know who that is, and isn’t, don’t “we”?) In his original New York Times op-ed column, Dennett disingenuously protested: “Don’t confuse the noun with the adjective: ‘I’m a bright’ is not a boast but a proud avowal of an inquisitive world view.” So “proud” that when you register online to “self-identify as a Bright,” Dennett’s web site promises you confidentiality. JB

4. Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (New York: Free Press, 1994). For a discussion of the book at the time of its publication, see “The Bell Curve: The Scandal of Class Privilege” in Jack Barnes, Capitalism’s World Disorder: Working-Class Politics at the Millennium (Pathfinder, 1999), pp. 181-93 [2008 printing].

5. In June 1979 the Supreme Court upheld a contract negotiated by the United Steelworkers of America with Kaiser Aluminum to upgrade employment for those targeted by longstanding discrimination by establishing a quota that one-half of the places in a new job-training program would be reserved for Blacks and women. The court rejected claims by attorneys for Brian Weber, a worker at Kaiser’s plant in Gramercy, Louisiana, that he had been illegally excluded from the training program because he was white. Prior to that, while 39 percent of the workers at the Gramercy plant were African-American, only 5 of 273 skilled jobs at the plant had been held by Black workers, and none by women. At the time, socialist workers and others actively campaigned across the country and throughout the labor movement with the seventy-five-cent Pathfinder pamphlet The Weber Case: New Threat to Affirmative Action; How Labor, Blacks, and Women Can Fight for Equal Rights and Jobs for All. See also Jack Barnes, The Changing Face of U.S. Politics (Pathfinder, 1994), especially pp. 338-41 and 401-03, [2008 printing.]

A decade later, however, the Supreme Court began handing down decisions that increasingly restricted—in the words of a January 1989 decision (City of Richmond v. Croson)—“the use of an unyielding racial quota.” Following another such Supreme Court decision in 1995 (Adaran Constructors Inc. v. Peña), the Clinton administration issued a memorandum aimed at further exacerbating divisions among working people by calling for the elimination of any program that creates “a quota,” “preferences for unqualified individuals,” or “reverse discrimination”—three longtime battle cries of opponents of the Weber decision and other prior victories. A 2003 Supreme Court decision (Grutter v. Bollinger), while conceding the University of Michigan Law School could continue to take discretionary measures to maintain “a diverse student body,” ruled at the same time that “universities cannot establish quotas for members of certain racial or ethnic groups or put them on separate admissions tracks.”

6. In the opening decades of the twentieth century, Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin, responding to the increasingly Russian chauvinist policies of a rising privileged social caste in the government and party apparatus of the young Soviet workers and peasants republic, explained the proletarian character of measures to overcome the legacy of national oppression in a workers state. In a December 1922 letter to the upcoming Communist Party congress, Lenin wrote that internationalism “on the part of the oppressors or ‘great’ nations, as they are called (though they are great only in their violence, only great as bullies), must consist not only in the observance of the formal equality of nations but even in an inequality, through which the oppressor nation, the great nation, would compensate for the inequality which obtains in real life. Anybody who does not understand this has not grasped the real proletarian attitude to the national question; he is still essentially petty bourgeois in his point of view and is, therefore, sure to descend to the bourgeois point of view.” From “Letter to the Party Congress” in Lenin’s Final Fight (Pathfinder, 1995), p. 220 [2009 printing].

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