Conservative Soc Mov Module: Muslim "Honor Killing" Criminals

The thing about conservative political strategy is that it is modular. Conservatives have got a playbook, and it’s not that elaborate. So if they do it to Sweden, they will do it to the Anglo world:

Canadian media sells “Honour Killings” as indication of “natural” Muslim seditionist tendencies.

Political strategy question: How do you get a people who see themselves as super-civilized liberators to support anti-liberatory conservative policies?

It turns out, this is easier than a level one Soduku puzzle. Start with flattery, and then they’ll turn on their own righteousness nozzle. Nationalism + defensive, instable, cul-du-sac liberalism  =  conservative-pliable mass psychology. Think of how conservatism has bloomed in contemporary Sweden, France & Canada.

On the advice of a elder feminist, I went to Sweden to study how their welfare state repressed immigrants. What I found there was a full-blown conservative campaign to destroy labor rights in Sweden, using the double-barreled politics of describing immigrants as both criminals and victims–criminals who make having a welfare state impossible (Because they can’t be trusted, and destroy civilization.), and victims of a welfare state thats de-commodification policies don’t let them “express” (sell) themselves. The conservative-fed media conclusion was that if you got rid of labor protections (and so by extension the labor confederation and social democracy), immigrants would be good and thrive, just like they do in Austria and the Anglo countries.

The Swedes were in complete denial about the potency of immigration politics in Sweden–Despite the legislative meetings and bills; despite feminist galvanization against the cruel, cruel, racist state and the cruel, cruel anti-Swedish civilization Muslim fathers; despite the massive media coverage of these conservative themes (and a very few, although of course always tragic, instances of violence within Muslim households) and simultaneous neglect of contextual data clearly showing that patriarchal violence is common across “civilizations” and hardly monopolized by Muslims; and despite the fact that Karl Rove was there in Sweden strategizing with a new conservative political coalition about this conservative campaign. One year later, the conservative coalition was the ruling government, and it has been ever since.

Now the exact same political trope is being used in Canada. Why now, eh?

You have to know your audience. On the other hand, there you have your data. Are you going to tell some unreconditioned, decades-old tool story about how the immigrants are super oppressed by the state and their fathers? Sure some of them are, sometimes. And they are oppressed by “authority” in a broader sense. So look, there’s something else going on here as well. Something rather pressing.

As Nancy Fraser has argued, people need to strongly consider that the contemporary incapacity of pro-liberation liberals to apprehend conservatism and conservative strategy is decidedly non-trivial. That incapacity decides labor policies and capital regulation in favor of capital. It feeds state-based working class institutional breakdown and reinstitutes full human commodification. It allows capitalist elites to confidently delegate to altruistic liberal managers the diligent pursuit of the task of imposing proletarianization, irrational and ideological privatization, and austerity. In an era of declining growth, it fuels capitalist expansion via primitive accumulation, rather than allowing humans to decrease our throughputs while rationally redistributing accumulated surpluses. Not really ironically, it exacerbates racism and sexism. It promulgates vicious war.

What I’m talking about is this problem: People can be very nice. People can be anti-authoritarian. People can be pro goodness and they can be all about extending moral consideration. Not conservatives, but liberals to lefties. (Though conservatives can champion  elaborate decorum. Order, you know.) 

All that fails to solve this problem: Without an adequate, socially-embedded theoretical framework (eg. Marxist), even self-identified progressives’ work (in the broad, materialist, Scarry sense) can be readily co-opted by conservatives to advance the conservative goal of shrinking moral consideration, monopolizing surplus and stunting human development. This is the problem of directive hegemony (Therborn. As opposed to legitimation — Habermas).

(Discuss Desai, Hall on the historical Thatcherite construction of conservative hegemony, around here.)

If structure is the accumulation of collective action, then conservative collective action creates the pathways that convert altruistic intentions and beliefs into dehumanizing hierarchy and tyranny.

Political-economic engagement (intellectualism, to use Perry Anderson’s term) is not just for conservatives or property-owning white men. Political-economic literacy and engagement matter. A lot. To everybody.

To illustrate this point further, I will discuss how the summer 2011 Winnipeg Rebelles gathering unfolded. Hint: To work together–to express our humanity, even feminist, multiculti lefties/progressives need to be able to distinguish conservatism. And in my personal experience in the technocratic, anti-Big Questions, anti-macro theory Anglo world, this has been an unmet need for over a quarter century, at a minimum.

We’ll see what happens to the Honour Killings conservative strategy in Canada. If Canadian feminists and the judiciary can avoid getting sucked in, if they firmly assert that violent patriarchy is not the exclusive property of Muslims (Obviously, in Canada there is already wide recognition that Aboriginal women are killed by their male relatives.), then maybe they can keep the neocon anti-Muslim “Clash of Civilizations” politics out of courtrooms and out of currency. And just maybe it will not justify, in the minds of Canadians, both Israel bombing Iranians (Yes, partly on behalf of Anglo-American geopolitical/energy strategy.) and domestic austerity measures.

The US Model of Social Exclusion

Here is a link to Schmmitt & Zipperer’s “Is the US A Good Model for Reducing Social Exclusion in Europe?” (2006) CEPR.

Not so much, contend the authors, analyzing social exclusion through the variables of income inequality, poverty, education, health, crime and punishment, the labor market and finally, the coup de gras, social mobility.

Breivik and Judeo-Christian terrorism

In response to Brievik’s Judeo-Christian fascist political terrorism–77 murdered and 96 injured when he bombed Oslo government buildings housing the Labor Party, and slaughtered Labour Party children at a multicultural summer camp,

the Jerusalem Post wrote an anxious story demanding that we prevent the right-wing atrocity from overshadowing the “Failure of Multiculturalism” in Europe. What is the Jerusalem Post on about, you ask? Good question, because as much of a non sequitor as it first appears, it just so happens to get to the heart of the Breivik massacres.

“The Failure of Multiculturalism” in Scandinavia: International Conservative Politics

What has happened in northern Europe is that conservatives have been waging a campaign against labor, and the tool that they have been using is a spectacularly-conflicted (But who needs consistency? What you need is complete coverage!) dual politics creating a “multiculturalism crisis” out of immigrants–immigrants portrayed as both Muslim criminals and as victims of the social democratic welfare state and labor institutions. This political campaign has been raging unchecked since the 1990s. Breivik is the direct product of this conservative campaign.

The broad, intended conservative goal is to exterminate labor institutions in Scandinavia, and thus to exterminate social democracy. It’s been a more difficult project there than elsewhere, though certainly not impossible. Neoliberalism has made great headway for conservatism in Scandinavia. Leave it to a Scandinavian, however, to increase effectiveness and efficiency: You can also help to extinguish the Labour Party’s future by directly exterminating its youth.

The connection to neocon Israel lies in the conservative goal of promoting imperial, high-inequality, capitalist, Anglo-american-centric capitalist countries on the global political-economic stage. Scandinavia isn’t China, but social democracy is an alternative political economy that has the capacity to subordinate finance capital to socio-economic welfare and occasionally controls finance capital. It is  thereby a threat to the financial-military domination of the global conservative hegemon.

Norwegian teens mourn the loss of their friends.

Breivik was the product of global conservative conditioning. Not only did he target Labor Party representatives and children, Breivik wrote a 1500 page “manifesto,” in which Israel is mentioned on 170 pages, Norway on 135. Breivik: “So let us fight together with Israel, with our Zionist brothers against all anti-Zionists, against all cultural Marxists/multiculturalists.”

A plump and satisfied Breivik, in Izod, on the way to jail.

Studying Swedish immigration politics over the past 10 years, I have found the “failure of social democratic multiculturalism” trope to be a fundamental conservative tool in Scandinavia. There it is used to argue not just for stepped-up European harmonization with imperial Anglo-American-Israeli policy, but also for dismantling the labor protections that enable social democracy.

The conservative argument is this: “The Failure of Multiculturalism (in Scandinavia, not US/Israel-special-relationshi​p countries) is the result of Muslim Criminality + Social Democratic institutions (eg. welfare state, labor rights). The solution to the Failure of Multiculturalism is to break down labor institutions, and to support Israel in our Clash of Civilizations.”

In this conservative political campaign, the problems posed by fascism (understood beyond the 20th century Jewish Holocaust) are eclipsed, by design (Thanks, Lyotard). These politics are neocon Zionist home turf. It is no surprise that J-post is anxious that such emergent crises of fascism will slow the conservative campaign in Scandinavia.

I initially went to Sweden with the PhD advisor-driven mission of discovering what the Swedes had done to violate their immigrants and how US-Canadian immigration could provide the Swedes with a proper immigration approach. Having extensively compared, in Sweden, the US and Canada, Swedish immigration policy and outcomes with Canadian, US, and other Anglo-country policies and outcomes, I can firmly say that the long legacy of social democratic multicultural policy and program development in Sweden is, if anything, more progressive, constructive, and preferable, from both overarching immigrant and native perspectives. It’s not the communist horizon, but as usual, actually-existing (not nominal) social democracy, even in decline, pretty much gives you the best you are going to get out of capitalism.

Why the Failure of Multiculturalism politics now? 

Graeber points out that modern racism is a class-compromise byproduct in European societies, where elites wished to resume slavery in their countries, and working men and women refused the institution. Essentially, political-economic elites resorted to promoting modern racism as a means of securing broad consent to their right to superexploit someone…elsewhere.

(After the ‘Dark Ages’ rejection of slavery in Europe,) modern racism…had to be invented largely because Europeans continued to refuse to listen to the arguments of the intellectuals and jurists, and did not accept that anyone (in their own societies, whom) they believed to be a full and equal human being could ever justifiably be enslaved” Graeber 2011: 212.

It is worth asking to what extent intellectuals and jurists today are again trying to convince these intransigent, vulgar ‘Europeans’ (or Americans) to accept slavery in their own societies. Where do race and immigration politics, including carefully-managed versions of anti-racism (“Antiracism = submit to capital” or “Civilized contemporary global capitalists are antiracist/antiracism.”) in Europe and the Anglosphere, coincide with the promotion of domestic debt peonage and international slavery?

Why are Scandinavians vulnerable to the conservative anti-racist/pro-racist political one-two punch? What I observed is that, hitting the wall imposed by the bourgeois takeover of social democracy, their tremendous historical social democratic capacity for problem solving stutters and stalls. Unwilling to accept that even Swedish (nativist), righteous liberalism is unable to solve the fundamental social problems of capitalism, they descend into an inability to admit that coerced human migration in capitalism is not potentially a picnic on the beach.

They hysterically swear to themselves that somewhere out there is a liberal-conservative model of social inclusion that is both cheaper and can achieve more inclusion than social democratic inclusion could. There is not. What Swedes have consistently failed to acknowledge, throughout the conservative ascent era, is that immigration is extremely hard, especially for non-elites. It’s hard for the “welcoming” society. It’s harder for immigrants. Refugee immigration is even harder still. It does not get done in any core capitalist country easily or prettily or cheaply.

The free-market formula for purportedly “masterful” immigration (touted to flourish in Austria, Canada, the US) is an unwholesome marketing combination of outright distortions and fractional truth based in ideal, exceptional, fleeting experiences blown up by marketing spin into a bloated department store parade float, distracting children and obstructing our view. The actually-existing social democracies do fundamentally-vexed immigration and social incorporation about as well as it can be done, and they have kept trying to improve (including counterproductively), in the causative context of global imperial war and exploded societies. And in that context, human mobility and the difficult work of rigorous collective restoration are essential.

In studying the intensely-marketed Failure of Multiculturalism campaign in Sweden, I had to conclude that, regardless of what righteous, altruistic feminists and anti-racists it grafts onto its project, it is a conservative political campaign to dismantle labor institutions on the back of immigrant victimology and stigmatization. That is ugly.

It is no prettier that this immigrant-exploitative war on the working class is intimately tied to international neocon efforts to push the more reluctant, social-democratic quarters of Europe behind the oil-dependent, finance-ruled, high-inequality, bellicose and belligerent conservative imperium. Only chronic marketing victims should be surprised that such an imperial military-finance alliance both ignites the E-Z/La-Z semi-laissez faire marketing imaginary (“All the Beautiful, Cafe-latte Multicultural Utopia needs is Walmartization!”) and, on its flipside, fosters contemporary fascism.

Doug Henwood responds: “There’s a right-wing critique of soc dem that says it only works in ‘homogenous’ places like Sweden. Relatedly, Hayek claimed that soc dem and socialism are fundamentally nationalist, since their planning universe need national borders. But your research shows that not only is that not true, but the war on immigrants is part of a war on soc dem.”

(Henwood’s friend Joel Shalit keeps an eye on some contemporary national conservative movements, and also does some damage-repair for Israel within the Western Left. He doesn’t have much to say about the Breivik case; but he does understand at least Israeli, British, German and Italian conservative politics, and following up on his “Actually Existing Israel” (April 2011), Henwood interviewed Joel Shalit on Israeli national identity and radical conservatism and superficially on Israel’s relationship to the European right on Henwood’s radio show Behind the News.

In response to the Jerusalem Post article, Shalit advocates in “Breivik and the Jews” that Jewish people should not be trying to hide the dependency of contemporary European fascism on Jewish conservatism, but rather should confront the conservative ideas.)

Hegemony via Confusion & Opportunistic Parochialism

Having recently viewed a succession of music videos from the 1980s (of which this is representative), and this depiction of modern postmodernism, I think it bears iteratation: confusion is a tool of conservative hegemony.

The conservative “immigrant crisis” political trope continues unabated, as where in March 2012, the right-wing Swedish press, apparently hoping that no one has memory in Sweden and claiming that the Left never let Swedes chat about all the immigrant problems, again lays the blame for the right-wing Breivik atrocity squarely on the shoulders of…you guessed it, “Left-wing culture politics.” Jävla galen propaganda.

The Anglo-american media spun the Breivik massacres in this way: “Norwegians are a lot more barbaric that they think they are. After all, they are Vikings, who once gleefully hurt the innocent villagers of Great Britain.” This interpretation of the meaning of the Breivik massacres is “backed up” by Wikileaks documents in which the US State Department whines that Norway should devote its income to a bigger militarized policing apparatus.

Huh. Of course the US State Dept. desires that other countries give their money to Halliburton. Where has that been shown to reduce harm, and how does that fervent wish demonstrate that Norwegians need to convert over to a similarly repressive state? And as regards purported Norwegian sub-surface barbarity: Norwegians simply do not engage in viciousness at the volume that people in right-wing societies do, and that’s because they have savvier social integration understanding and institutions (Not because they are “homogeneous”, which due to inter alia mass immigration, they are not).

 By any valid measure (Though my review of the literature “documenting” the failure of multiculturalism in Scandinavia shows clearly that conservatives will fuck with the measures–so let’s aggregate the measures for ease of consensus.), the contemporary Scandinavian societies cannot compete in the violence Olympics with the Judeo-Christian Anglo-American societies. (Even if Zionism is your sole measure of civilization, Scandinavians have award-winning, government-mandated, early-to-late education programs focused on the singular tragedy of the early 20th century Jewish Holocaust. They have lots of advanced initiatives designed to combat antisemitism. Their press is not anti-Semitic.) The result of this vigorous socialization into Western “civilization”? When married to conservative politics, it has meticulously groomed a Christian Zionist terrorist.

Norwegians are not insulated from global civilization/hegemony, surreptitiously (yet lazily!) cultivating their genetically-cruel culture in the backwoods. That’s a cockamame story. That it sells at all is dependent, in fact, on the parochialism and Halliburton investments of the Anglo-american press’ audience.

… A lesbian couple heroicallysaved 40 children from Breivik.

Race politics working their magic on this side of the pond:

Brad de Long ponders a Republican Bangledesh-American arguing hopefully that white American conservatives are not racist; they’re just protecting good things from bad people, Virginia. De Long answers the Republican in “Why Don’t Republicans Like Illegal Immigrants from Mexico?, where he argues that illegal immigrants from Mexico logically should be the posterboys for Republican ideals, and yet still Republicans hate illegal immigrants.

Here’s my rejoinder to the conservative-liberal debate on conservative racism:

It is true that Republicans degrade or hate Mexican immigrants, surfacely because they are “colored” and often have an accent. Wah-wah. But inasmuch as such complaints gesture lazily towards some vaguely-natural “problem” and echo historical charges against some people by other people, it still is something of a random problem construction, as De Long points out. Why is active racism characteristic of conservative politics today?

Because racism  is dehumanization and it is not random; it is a conservative “Little King” institution that allows tyrants to maintain a popular base in a high- inequality political-economy.

Racism encourages zero-sum thinking that co-opts people to a high-inequality agenda. When Republicans enjoy bonding together by actively degrading Mexican immigrants (and other people they want to perceive and remake as low status and powerless), they are sharing a symbol of their tribal project, working together to promote their own material benefit at the expense of other people. In the race-besotted US/Israel, conservatives set up this classic stratification credo, typically without any confirming evidence whatsoever: If we don’t savagely degrade and super-exploit the weaker tribes, they will eat us and everyone we love.

Racism is a conservative coalition-building tactic. From a top 0.1% ruler down to their media lackeys down to a conservative convenience clerk, what these capitalist conservatives have always wanted is to privatize (someone else’s) commons, and the perpetuation of cheap labor that they can exploit. So no matter whether they’re trying to transfer the wealth of the dwindling US middle class into their own off-shore hoard, or whether they’re suffering stagnant income and related hierarchy indignities–no matter their horrible alienation, at least they’ll always share the high-inequality market and the militarized police to force someone more vulnerable to provide them all a compensatory Chemlawn yard.

And while preventing immigration historically tends to allow labor to organize and take a larger share of social wealth, creating a special class of dehumanized and legally-vulnerable laborers definitely does produce loads of cheapened labor to use and abuse– with fun moralistic fervor!

Conservatives are an organized political group that strives to dictate to us our true value (abysmally low), and what we owe them (the sun and the moon and the stars). Paraphrasing David Graeber, conservatives seek to transform the very foundations of our being–since what else are we, ultimately, except the sum of the relations we have with others–into matters of fault, sin, and crime, and to make the world into a place of iniquity–an agonized, writhing hell that they rule, a little crowning fraternity of the damned.

Let me give you a representative example of the framework problem I see with so much of the professional neoliberal civilizer staff, by recounting two examples of pertinent antiracist history that I can say with a great deal of assurance that antiracists don’t know or cannot remember–because it doesn’t fit in the official multiculti Anglo settler country anti-communist plot line.

1) “Communists” in the US South

2) Socialists and communists in the US North:

A century ago, in the early 20th century, socialists in the interior, in Minnesota, worked in coalition with the Twin Cities African American community to promote and host anti-racist movie and discussion nights in rural towns. It was immensely successful anti-racism and progressive rural mobilization (Jennifer Dalton. “Making MN Liberal”). It created the conditions for such unusually progressive politics that in that era, the state even saw its forests run for ecological goals (Mark Hudson. “Fire Management in the American West.”), the preservation of urban public space, the nation’s strongest teacher’s union, the preservation of family farms, and its workers’ lives defended by the National Guard (which only happened one other time in US history–under Pinchot’s PA governance.)

 For at least 5 generations (and, really, we know more), socialists have known–and were capable of acting upon the knowledge–that to build and maintain working class consciousness and mobilization in North America, partly we need to combat the tool of racism across geographies–combat it by engaging people’s sociability. (Kind of like how today, a hundred years later, it is still socialists who work with First Nations folks to develop some of the most innovative antiracism initiatives in central Canada, such as Neechi CED initiatives.)

The Minnesota socialists’ early and effective anti-racism efforts were disbanded, eliminated by a small group of liberals who used the threat of fascism to take over the Farmer-Labor Party. Today rural Minnesota is instead organized by the far right, via churches, and rural people there are again “naturally” racist and sexist and, well, sort of feudal rural idiots, just like how we imagine they should be to sustain the rationale for our jobs as professional civilizers in a gloriously unequal–ahem! ambition-rewarding!–society. And the result is that rabid anti-inegalitarians rule unfettered throughout.

That’s how much we have progressively improved our anti-racism by imagining that working class consciousness and a strong anti-inequality critique is a problem because it must “subsume race,” which we know because we have accumulated our tremendous liberal intellectual endowment of identity politics theory and initiatives that we somehow imagine, despite all the evidence, that conservatives cannot manage the hell out of (the combo racist and antiracist politics harnessed by conservatives in the destruction of US mass public education being but one case in point).

I am always impressed every time I realize that liberals think they personally discovered anti-racism in 1968, possibly at a cocktail party in New Haven or Toronto or London–maybe in the coffee shops of Paris, and that their job is to be as boorish as humanly possible whenever Marxists suggest that This is America, land of identity politics and that North America is rich in hugely-overdeveloped identity politics theory and initiatives, which are materially-supported by universities, governments and foundations across the political spectrum, and which help political-economic elites bond globally, as a class (The ultimate multicultural camaraderie). Whereas the US is absolutely, forcibly poverty-stricken in working class consciousness and historical-materialist understanding.

This intellectual poverty and self-sabotage underlies our inability to sustain a critical mass of alternative mobilization to address our failing, persistent, zombie political-economy, or race and women’s poverty– inequality problems, or our market-besotted, energy-drunk failure to contribute to a greater, barely-initiated project of building a decent, judicious, healthy environment, society and world. When liberals insist that we don’t need a Marxist understanding of racism, they breathe life into racism, which is also a tool for predatory rulers.

David Montgomery’s Cambridge-published studies on Cold War-suppressed Leftist contributions in the US:

Montgomery, David. 1987. The Fall of the House of Labor: The Workplace, The State, and American Labor Activism, 1865- 1925. Cambridge Press.
Montgomery, David. 1995. Citizen Worker. Cambridge.
Montgomery, David. 1979. Workers Control in America. Cambridge.

(In contrast to Lipset’s classic liberal story “Political Man” about the good center and the bad peripheries.)

individuation & togetherness in social formation

Individuals in communities strive to maintain and develop their own, unique cultures, and appropriate technologies, architectures, politics, and economies. At the same time, they strive for belonging across a range of orders of social organization, from, for example, the family to the team and the fraternity to the neighborhood and the workplace to the nation to the international communities of small businessmen, capitalists, workers, worshippers, women, men, homosexuals, heterosexuals, whites, people of color, migrants, and so on.
How do states balance the issues and problems arising from people’s linked and contradictory needs to belong and to maintain community autonomy? In addressing this question, it makes sense to look at how states, institutions, and communities balance the issues and problems arising from facilitating immigration and promoting distinctive cultures, languages, religions, and identities, while working to build a sense of togetherness as a nation with historical and distinctive ideological, social, political, and economic commitments and aspirations.
American partisans have argued that liberal Anglo-America possesses a model approach to the problem of balancing belonging and independence. An approach that other countries may emulate, the liberal, Anglo-American answer to the problematic is to incorporate people into a system of competition framed by inequality, fueled by what liberal academic figurehead Francis Fukuyama has labeled flatteringly “the drive to stick out.” It might more succinctly and less flatteringly be referred to as a Lotto Mentality, for the adherents, exceptionalists all, statisticians decidedly second, assume that they will come out on top in the US’s patronage system.
Yet the liberal answer is a weak evasion, weighted too heavily on the side of independence, glibly eliding the need for togetherness. Only the elite feels hierarchy as unproblematic togetherness. Conflicts and contradictions devolve out of competition framed by inequality, anomie and alienation flourish, the problem of balancing belonging and independence stubbornly remains, burned in the flesh and experience of every minority, every woman, every worker in American society. It remains a problem for the state and its institutions. And as Swedish researchers have shown, the requisite predisposition for finding inequality functional is cultural. Americans have it in spades; Swedes among others are less enamored of inequality.
The American consensus is advanced by the curiously asociological American economic sociology of immigration, in which it is discovered that the market and networks of interethnic competition provide the optimal conditions for the incorporation of multicultural immigrants. As well, experts of journalism promote the notion of American optimality. As pundit Christopher Caldwell noted in his February 5, 2006 New York Times essay “Islam on the outskirts of the welfare state,” other political-economic approaches, such as Swedish social democracy, falter in their management of this tension.
Caldwell argues that social democrats fail to grasp that some populations, like Muslims, cannot appreciate democracy and can never be assimilated into an overly-egalitarian society. “(Sweden’s) newcomers understand perfectly well what this system erected in the name of equality is and have decided it doesn’t particularly suit them,” he offers by way of explaining for the Swedes the roots of the conflicts over belonging and community autonomy in Sweden.
In this asociological American view, immigrants and their progeny are black boxes hardwired to devalue equality and democracy and overvalue strife and violence. Implicitly, only a system that does not place too much emphasis on equality and democracy, such as an Anglo American liberal society, is fit to properly manage such a species of people as Muslims.[1]

Yet, apart from a sensationalist newspaper story here and there, much social science evidence points not toward immigrants’ rejection of equality, but at discrimination, structural adjustment, and isolation as sources of minority immiseration in a society that has developed a refugee-oriented immigration policy and pro-autonomy multicultural programs since the 1970s. How does a society wrestle with the essential tension between assimilation and community autonomy, between belonging and independence, between different forms of solidarity and individual development?

[1] The American pundit scoffs at structural explanations developed from empirical data demonstrating discrimination in the labor and housing market, and, not surprisingly, he ignores the fact that many of Sweden’s immigrants, including Iranian-Swedes, are pro-democratic escapees from the repressive, right-wing regimes that Anglo-American military and intelligence adventures have promoted around the globe. Indeed, Sweden has been frustrating American efforts to get Swedes to turn over “their” Muslims, and Caldwell’s rhetoric is not likely innocent of this contemporary diplomatic conflict.

race and class justice

Frederickson, George M. 2005. “Still separate and unequal.” The New York Review of Books 52 (18).

Frederickson reviews Katznelson, Ira. When affirmative action was white: An untold history of racial inequality in 20th century America. Norton.


Affirmative action, the policy of giving preferences for jobs, university admissions, or government contracts to members of designated racial and ethnic groups, has never been popular, and it could soon be abolished. In 2003, the Supreme Court struck down an undergraduate admissions policy at the University of Michigan that provided extra points for minority applicants. At the same time, the Court approved by a single vote the more subjective practice of taking race into account as one factor among several in admissions to the university’s law school. The change of one vote (by the recently confirmed Chief Justice John Roberts?) would have meant the end of overt affirmative action in higher education. The trend against affirmative action in the states is even more pronounced. In California and Washington constitutional referendums have banned the government from using affirmative action in any of its activities. Other states have ended or severely limited affirmative action by executive authority.

More remarkable than the current opposition to affirmative action is the fact that it ever came into existence in the first place. On its face, the policy seems to violate one of the most basic American values—the idea that individual merit as manifested in a fair and open competition should be rewarded. A practice that seems to go against the individualistic and meritocratic American ethos is clearly vulnerable to an attack that is likely to be persuasive to many of those who do not stand to benefit from it. Moreover, affirmative action seems contrary to the emphasis on colorblindness that was characteristic of the civil rights movement of the Fifties and early Sixties, and was expressed in the language of its greatest achievement—the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Two very different arguments have been advanced for affirmative action. One claims that it is just compensation for historical injustices and disadvantages. In the case of claims by African- Americans the emphasis is usually on the wounds inflicted by centuries of slavery, segregation, and discrimination. President Lyndon Johnson made one of the most elegant and influential statements of this position in his Howard University speech of 1965, which is quoted by Ira Katznelson in When Affirmative Action Was White:

You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, “you are free to compete with all the others,” and still justly believe that you have been completely fair…. It is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates…. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result.

The other argument, which is reflected in recent Supreme Court decisions and is currently much heard, is based on the assumption that racial and ethnic diversity among “elites”— relatively well-off people who have some degree of responsibility for others, whether private or public—is beneficial to society and its institutions. Prominent among those who defend affirmative action, for example, are spokesmen for the American mili-tary who lent conspicuous support to the University of Michigan’s side in the 2003 Supreme Court case. Since the enlisted ranks are disproportionately black and Latino, discipline and morale are presumably inspired by having the same groups represented among the officers, including those of the highest rank. Corporations that deal with a multicultural and multiracial clientele, sometimes on an international scale, find obvious advantages in being represented by people who reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of those with whom they are do-ing business. Many large corporations practice affirmative action voluntarily even when there is no significant pressure from the government.

In higher education the diversity argument takes a slightly different form. Racially and ethnically heterogeneous student bodies are said to create an appropriate educational environment for students who will encounter many different kinds of people when they go out into the world. Faculties, moreover, must be diverse if they are to provide inspiration and suitable “role models” for minority students.

Clearly affirmative action has had its greatest success in producing more diverse elites, particularly in the much-heralded emergence of a substantial African-American middle class, something that never existed before. But as the sociologist William Julius Wilson has argued for many years, this process of embourgeoisement has been accompanied by the equally substantial growth of “the truly disadvantaged,” the economically marginal black inhabitants of the urban ghettos. Since the advent of affirmative action in the 1960s, the overall differences between blacks and whites have changed very little with respect to average incomes, property holdings, and levels of educational attainment. What is new is the gulf that has opened in the black community between the middle class and the lower or “under” class.[1]

Affirmative action originated as a pragmatic response by those in the federal government responsible for enforcing the fair employment provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.[2] The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) set up under the act lacked the staff to investigate most individual claims of discrimination in employment. It also lacked legal authority to act effectively on behalf of the complainants. As a result, the only way that the EEOC could begin to do its job was to request government contractors to provide statistics on the racial composition of their labor force. If blacks (and by the 1970s other minorities as well) were underrepresented among the workers relative to their percentage of the local population, the EEOC set numerical goals for minority recruitment sufficient to correct this disproportion. Employers were then required to make “good faith efforts” to meet “quotas” for black workers. If they didn’t hire more blacks, they risked losing contracts. The professed aim was equal opportunity, not racial favoritism; but the paradox that bedeviled the program from the start was that it appeared to require preferential means to reach egalitarian ends.

After its fitful beginnings during the Johnson administration, affirmative action took a dramatic turn under Richard Nixon, whose administration put into effect a controversial plan to integrate Philadelphia’s construction trades. Historians have concluded that the Philadelphia Plan of 1969–1970, which set firm racial quotas for hiring for one industry in one city, was a political ploy. It was designed by the Nixon Republicans to cause friction between two of the principal consti-tuencies of the Democratic Party— organized labor, which opposed the plan because of the threat it posed to jobs under its control, and African-Americans, who had overwhelmingly supported the Democrats since the New Deal.[3] At the same time, Nixon was trying to appeal to Southern whites by doing little to enforce desegregation, especially in the schools.

When rising opposition to the war in Vietnam became the critical issue for his administration in 1970 and 1971, and hard hats like the construction workers of Philadelphia were in the forefront of those opposing the anti-war protesters, the Philadelphia Plan was quietly shelved. From then on, Republicans were, for the most part, strongly opposed to affirmative action and benefited from the backlash against it, attacking the Democrats as the “party of quotas” because of their continued support for the policy.

Affirmative action was declared constitutional in 1971 when the Supreme Court ruled in Griggs v. Duke Power Co. that discrimination in employment could be subject to affirmative action even if it were not intentional or motivated by prejudice. The Court found that the standardized aptitude tests given by the company to employees prevented blacks from moving to higher-paying departments. Such requirements could be “fair in form,” the Court said, but they could still be described as “discriminatory in operation” if they had an “adverse impact” on blacks. Hence the EEOC was legally entitled to set goals for increasing minority employment and to require periodic reports on the progress being made on fulfilling such goals by any of the 300,000 firms doing business with the federal government.

In 1978 in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the Court held by five votes to four that strict numerical quotas, such as those that the medical school of the University of California at Davis had set for minority applicants, could not be permitted. But the concurring opinion of Justice Lewis Powell, who cast the deciding vote, held that race could still be used as a positive factor in considering the qualifications of candidates for admission so long as two criteria were satisfied. If a university were to give preference to blacks it had to establish a direct connection between the claim to such special consideration and a specific historical injustice such as the exclusion of blacks from professional schools over the years (generalized claims of past racism would not suffice). Racial preferences must also serve a “compelling public interest” or purpose. The constitutional foundation for affirmative action laid by Justice Powell has endured for the past twenty-six years. The recent Michigan decisions forbid numerical point systems as well as statistical quotas; but it continues to be constitutional to use race among other factors to determine qualifications for university admissions and employment.


Ira Katznelson has made a major contribution to the affirmative action debate in his book When Affirmative Action Was White. He accepts Justice Powell’s criteria and uses them to justify a much more ambitious governmental attack on racial inequality than currently exists. He presents a new version of the argument that affirmative action is justified as compensation for historical wrongs against black people. Instead of going back to slavery, he maintains that people who are still alive (or have living children or grandchildren) and have been the victims of specific historical injustices can provide strong claims for restitution from the United States government, the direct source of these injustices.

Most of Katznelson’s book is devoted to showing how the economic and social legislation of the 1930s and 1940s favored whites over blacks. Katznelson is not the first historian to argue that the New Deal and Fair Deal widened the gulf between whites and blacks in the United States, but he is the first to consider such discrimination as the principal justification for an ambitious affirmative action program that would include reparations for blacks.[4]

The undeniable fact is that, by comparison with whites, blacks became relatively worse off during this per-iod. But this relative failure has been obscured by the equally undeniable fact that the material circumstances of African-Americans improved and were, on average, significantly better in 1950 than they had been in 1930. What Katznelson shows is that the Democratic social and economic policies of the Thirties and Forties were rigged so that whites got much more than a fair share of the benefits.

The primary cause of this inequity, Katznelson contends, was the influence of Southern segregationists within the Democratic Party. In the 1930s, when the first New Deal policies were being enacted, white Southern congressmen provided necessary votes for liberal measures that strengthened the labor movement, set minimum wages, and gave relief or temporary work to the unemployed. But they did so only on the condition that the Southern racial order remain insulated against federal actions that might threaten it. The cooperation of New Dealers and segregationists broke down in the 1940s, when a strengthened labor movement began to look south and consider organizing blacks as well as whites. At that point, a new coalition of Northern Republicans and Southern Democrats succeeded in stopping the advance of organized labor, especially by passing the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which put heavy restrictions on union organizing.

In 1948 the Democratic Party, with labor support, took up the cause of civil rights for the first time, and Harry Truman was elected president despite the defection of much of the South to the States’ Rights or “Dixiecrat” Party. But this change of heart by the Democrats was, Katznelson points out, less than a complete conversion to the cause of racial justice. He reminds us that the Democrats of the 1950s, trying to keep the South’s electoral votes, backtracked on civil rights and made renewed overtures to Southern white supremacists. In support of his argument, Katznelson might have noted that Adlai Stevenson’s first running mate was a solid segregationist and former Dixiecrat—Senator John J. Sparkman of Alabama.

The New Deal policies that wors-ened the situation of blacks were not overtly discriminatory. The primary device used by Southern white supremacists was to exclude agricultural laborers and domestic servants from coverage under the Social Security Act and National Labor Relations Act of 1935 and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Since these were the occupations of most Southern blacks and of much smaller proportions of Southern whites, such exclusions meant that most blacks were being left out of the new welfare state and denied the same chance to escape from poverty that was available to many relatively poor whites. In the South, therefore, the New Deal actually had the effect of strengthen-ing the economic basis of white privilege. It is true that at the height of the Depression African-Americans received some help from the WPA and other emergency measures to provide relief and work, but since Southern white supremacists locally administered these programs, racial discrimination continued.

Service in the military during World War II provided blacks with some opportunities for education and for developing valuable skills. But as Katznelson points out, smaller proportions of blacks than whites actually served in the armed forces (more were considered physically or mentally unfit for military service) and the separate but unequal segregation of the armed forces meant that blacks had relatively fewer chances to acquire new skills and advance to higher ranks. Although he mentions it, Katznelson pays little attention to one bright spot in the World War II experience for African-Americans—the increased access to industrial jobs, especially in the North, resulting mainly from the tight wartime labor market.

The federal government made a modest contribution to diversifying jobs through the activities of the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) established in 1941 as the result of protests led by the African-American labor leader E. Philip Randolph. The FEPC, by hearing complaints from blacks and demanding explanations from businesses, allowed more blacks to benefit from the new welfare state and narrowed the difference between the average white and black incomes. Here for the first time since Reconstruction the federal government was acting against ra-cial discrimination rather than facilitating it. The federal FEPC did not survive the war but it established an important precedent for later civil rights campaigns.

In the immediate postwar period, Katznelson convincingly argues, the GI Bill widened further the economic and social differences between the races. Southern segregation meant that educational opportunities available to whites were withheld from blacks, who were forced to compete for a very limited number of places in all-black institutions. Even in the North many colleges and universities either excluded blacks or admitted only a handful. GI loans for buying houses or financing small businesses were very difficult for blacks to ob-tain because of the discriminatory policies of banks and other lending agencies. Katznelson concludes that most government social policies during the 1930s and 1940s were, in effect, part of a vast affirmative action program for whites that left blacks further behind than they had been at the beginning of the period. He makes a chilling case.


Katznelson is somewhat more effective in describing the problem than in suggesting how to solve it. The general principle behind the kind of affirmative action that he recommends is clear enough: “Under affirmative action,” he writes,

[blacks should be] compensated not for being black but only because they were subject to unfair treatment at an earlier moment because they were black.

In an effort to fulfill the requirements that Justice Powell prescribed in the Bakke case, Katznelson offers two possible approaches. One would have the government identify all the people, or their immediate descendants, who were injured by exclusions from the various social and economic programs of the 1930s and 1940s. The government would calculate how much they would have gotten had they not been left out, and pay it to them in a lump sum.

Acknowledging that such a program would be “administratively burdensome” (clearly an understatement), he proposes an alternative, an all-out assault on poverty in general, based on the assumption that most of the people who are currently poor have been put at a disadvantage by the unjust policies of the 1930s and 1940s. To some extent, the program he favors would function like the GI Bill with “subsidized mortgages; generous grants for education and training; and active job searching and placement.” Health insurance and childcare could also be provided.

What is striking and somewhat unexpected is that these proposals do not depend on racial categories. All who suffered from policies of exclusion, whether in education or jobs, including some whites, would be entitled to compensation. It occurs to me that Katznelson’s essentially colorblind proposals, especially his second approach, could easily be justified on other grounds than as an antidote to racial inequality. If one simply assumed, as a good social democrat would, that poverty itself is an evil and that wealth should be more equitably distributed, similar policies could be justified. What he may be implying is that white America needs to face up, psychologically as well as materially, to its current as well as its past history of racial oppression, and that basing a colorblind antipoverty program on the need to redress racial discrimination will further this goal. But it remains unclear to me how Katznelson’s proposals would differ substantially in practice from those of William Julius Wilson, who distinguishes between affirmative action, which he defines as a way of producing more diversity among elites, and the kind of class-based assault on economic inequality that he believes is needed to raise up what he calls “the truly disadvantaged.”[5]

A question that can be raised about the adequacy of Katznelson’s historical analysis may also have implications for our understanding of the current prospects for racial equality. Are the South and Southern politicians as fully to blame for the increase in white advantages as he contends? Arguably the most important source of the current economic gulf between the races is the vast difference in average net worth or property ownership. Although average black incomes may be around two thirds those of whites, their average net worth, as Katznelson shows, is only about one tenth. Much of this difference is explained by the fact that whites own far more homes than blacks and therefore their net worth is higher.

How did this vast inequality come about? It was mainly the result of the greater white access to home mortgages that were insured and subsidized by the federal government. Before the 1930s a home buyer had to put down 50 percent of a house’s price and could get only a relatively short-term mortgage, perhaps only ten years. By the 1950s, as a result of a series of federal housing programs, including the GI Bill, most Americans could get long- term mortgages—up to thirty years— with a down payment as low as 10 percent. By 1984 seven out of ten whites owned their own homes, worth on average $52,000. But only one in four blacks owned a home, worth, on average, less than $30,000.

Katznelson outlines these facts toward the end of his book, and they illustrate dramatically his general point about the widening economic gulf between the races during the middle decades of the twentieth century. But he makes no effort to explain them as manifestations of Southern influence within the Democratic Party. The advantages of whites over blacks that he’s describing were more characteristically Northern than Southern; they manifested themselves in the growth of virtually all-white suburbs outside the major cities and virtually all-black ghettos within them.[6]

This new form of racial segregation was not simply the product of private choices, among them the refusal of white home-owners to sell to blacks, blockbusting and the racial “steering” of home buyers by real estate agents, and the personal prejudice of bankers asked to approve loans for blacks. The urban segregation that has contributed so much to the persistence of black inequality came about in large part because between the 1930s and the 1970s federal housing agencies refused to approve mortgage loans in neighborhoods that were “redlined,” which meant property values were deemed uncertain because of the presence of blacks.[7]

It is difficult to see the hand of Southern segregationists in these policies. It seems that Northern politicians were responding more directly to the racist attitudes of Northern whites who refused to live close to blacks. They were in effect underwriting the spatial segregation of the metropolitan North. It is not entirely clear how Katznelson’s proposal would try to rectify this aspect of affirmative action that benefited whites. Perhaps people could be compensated for the mortgages they were denied; but this would be extraordinarily difficult and would omit those who did not apply for mortgages because they expected they would be turned down.

Also in need of clarification is whether Katznelson’s attempt to justify large affirmative action programs for blacks applies to other minorities that are not black. He says virtually nothing about them. Since Mexican-Americans in the Southwest during the New Deal era were, like blacks in the South, disproportionately servants and farm laborers, they were similarly excluded from coverage by social security and labor rights legislation. Many of the same factors that make African-Americans eligible would thus apply to Chicanos, or at least to those who were in the United States between the 1930s and the 1950s, and to their descendants. But what about more recent Latino immigrants? They cannot claim as forcefully as blacks can that they were historically denied opportunities, such as obtaining mortgages, that were open to non-Hispanic whites.

A case can in fact be made that affirmative action was stretched out of shape and rendered incoherent when it was extended beyond African-Americans, Indians, and long-resident Mexican Americans to include recent nonwhite immigrants.[8] Katznelson might agree with this view, but he does not address the question specifically, or even mention Latinos or other non-black ethnic groups (an omission that will be particularly striking, for example, to readers who live in multicultural California). But Katznelson’s book makes as strong a case as I have ever seen made for vigorous action to bring about equal opportunities for African-Americans.


[1] See William Julius Wilson, The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy (University of Chicago Press, 1987) and The Declining Significance of Race: Blacks and Changing American Institutions (University of Chicago Press, 1978).

[2] The following historical survey is based on the book under review, supplemented by Terry H. Anderson, The Pursuit of Fairness: A History of Affirmative Action (Oxford University Press, 2004).

[3] For descriptions and assessments of the Philadelphia Plan, see John David Skrentny, The Ironies of Affirmative Action: Politics, Culture and Justice in America (University of Chicago Press, 1996), pp. 193–211; and Anderson, The Pursuit of Fairness, pp. 111–140.

[4] Philip F. Rubio makes this point in his A History of Affirmative Action, 1619– 2000 (University Press of Mississippi, 2001). But as his title indicates, he presents the New Deal’s inequities as one of a series of episodes going back to the introduction of African slavery that collectively constituted affirmative action for whites, rather than giving the 1930s and 1940s the kind of unique and self-sufficient importance that Katznelson does.

[5] See the works cited above by Wilson and also his When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor (Knopf, 1996).

[6] The best account of this develop-ment is Douglas S. Massey and Nancy A. Denton, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass (Harvard University Press, 1993).

[7] According to Michael B. Katz, Mark J. Stern, and Jamie J. Fader, “The underwriting practices of fed-eral agencies that insured mortgages introduced redlining, that is, the re-fusal to lend to buyers in certain neighborhoods, which virtually destroyed central-city housing markets, froze blacks out of mortgages, and encouraged white flight to suburbs.” See the “The New African American Inequality,” The Journal of American History, Vol. 92, No. 1 (June 2005), p. 79.

[8] This is the view of Hugh Davis Graham in Collision Course: The Strange Convergence of Affirmative Action and Immigration Policy in America (Oxford University Press, 2002).