by Andrew Kliman
I have just written a full-length essay, “Combatting White Nationalism: Lessons from Marx,” on how to deal with the threat of Trumpism and similar manifestations of white nationalism. If you’d like to read the complete text, please click here.
On September 24, I gave a presentation, based on an abbreviated version of the essay, to an international meeting of Marxist-Humanist Initiative. Members, supporters, and invited guests from the US, England, Scotland, and Sweden attended by Skype. If you’d like to listen to the audio recording of my presentation, please click here.
The following is the abstract of the essay:
This essay seeks to draw lessons from Karl Marx’s writings and practice that can help combat Trumpism and other expressions of white nationalism. The foremost lesson is that fighting white nationalism in the tradition of Marx entails the perspective of solidarizing with the “white working class” by decisively defeating Trumpism and other far-right forces. Their defeat will help liberate the “white working class” from the grip of reaction and thereby spur the independent emancipatory self-development of working people as a whole.
The anti-neoliberal “left” claims that Trump’s electoral victory was due to an uprising of the “white working class” against a rapacious neoliberalism that has caused its income to stagnate for decades. However, working-class income (measured reasonably) did not stagnate, nor is “economic distress” a source of Trump’s surprisingly strong support from “working-class” whites. And by looking back at the presidential campaigns of George Wallace between 1964 and 1972, it becomes clear that Trumpism is a manifestation of a long-standing white nationalist strain in US politics, not a response to neoliberalism or globalization.
Marx differed from the anti-neoliberal “left” in that he sought to encourage the “independent movement of the workers” toward human emancipation, not to further the political interests of “the left.” Their different responses to white nationalism are rooted in this general difference. Detailed analysis of Marx’s writings and activity around the US Civil War and the Irish independence struggle against England reveals that Marx stood for the defeat of the Confederacy, and the defeat of England, largely because he anticipated that these defeats would stimulate the independent emancipatory self-development of the working class.
Owing to their prejudiced, supremacist thinking and their privileged position relative to Irish immigrant workers, large numbers of English workers identified with “their” ruling classes and were hostile to the Irish. Marx argued that Irish independence was crucially important for the whole working class—including the English workers themselves. If England’s effort to continue its rule over Ireland were defeated, this would strike a blow against the supremacist pretensions of the “ordinary English worker[s],” free them from identifying their interests with those of the English ruling classes, and put them on an independent, internationalist, and emancipatory path.
Similarly, owing to privileges and white supremacism, “poor whites” in the US tended to support or accept slavery. Marx regard this as a “barrier to progress,” including the progress of the poor whites themselves. He championed the defeat of the Confederacy and the emancipation of the slaves largely because he anticipated that these events would eliminate that barrier.