As Adam Hakim tells the story, when he was still in high school (a black teenager in New York), he and a friend were conscripted, under violent threat, by precinct police officers to distribute drugs in their neighborhood, returning a certain amount of money each month to those officers. When Hakim sought to quit, he was threatened with death by these police officers. In response to his quitting anyway, the police (unofficially) raided his house, and opened fire when they found him in the back of the apartment. Hakim returned their fire, panicking the police, since the raid was unofficial. They retreated, firing wildly. One of their bullets smashed the lock to the rear fire-escape, allowing Hakim to escape. A massive man-hunt ensued, accompanied by a shrill media campaign labeling Hakim the most dangerous man in the city. Entire blocks were shut down while police ransacked apartments, one by one, in scenes reminiscent of WWII movies of the Nazi occupation of Europe. Through his lawyers, Hakim finally agreed to surrender to the FBI, and was arrested on a number of false charges. Within a year, he was paralyzed from the waist down, his spine broken in one of the beatings he received from the guards in jail.1
The question of fascism in the US is being raised now with a certain urgency (Wolf). Governmental contempt for citizens’ rights has grown, along with instances of corporate corruption and an executive arrogation of more centralized power. Massive imprisonment and the use of torture have been valorized; habeas corpus has been eroded; the US has wantonly invaded other nations. Guantánamo, New Orleans, and Jena have become watchwords in this process. Lawrence Britt lists 14 characteristics of fascism, leaving it to his reader to notice their emergence in our present political situation. They include extreme nationalism, disdain for human rights, destruction of unions and suppression of the labor movement, the invention of enemies, a political desire for war, an obsession with national security, control of mass media, prioritizing corporate interests, massive corporate and political corruption, and an obsession with prisons and policing.2
But the idea of a US fascism is not new. In an early, now canonical discussion of racism in the US, Pierre Van den Berghe (1967) pointed out that a prevalent racial despotism coexisted with constitutionality, a confluence he characterized as “herrenvolk democracy” – “democracy for white people” (1967: 18). In his book Friendly Fascism (1980), Bertram Gross argues that the US under Reagan began moving toward a form of governance closely analogous to 1930s European fascism; he compares the social consequences of corporate influence to Mussolini’s “corporate state.” George Jackson (1970) finds no better word than “fascism” to describe the psychotic use of power and violence by which white prisoners relate to black (110), or by which the prison administration maintains its hierarchical system of social control (29), which he sees mirrored in white-black relations outside the prison (128).
But many find this idea objectionable, seeing in it little correspondence to European experience. The European model has images of stormtroopers routinely stamping out freedom of speech, labor organizations, and popular resistance. Many SWAT team operations today fit that image, but they are discounted as rogue instances and not systemic.3 Beyond stormtroopers, European fascism had served as a specific and extreme political response to capitalist crisis (Sohn-Rethel; Guerin), in which a nationalistic and anti-labor demagogue had militarized society in defense of corporate hegemony and stability. In contradistinction, the US political scene is still imbued with party campaigns, elections, and relative freedom of speech. Unions still have legal standing, and the labor movement is assumed to have continuity and presence. The virulent rightwing, openly despotic seizure of power that characterizes the European model has not yet occurred.
Yet Hakim’s story raises the question of police rule in a different way, apart from technology or capitalist crisis. Its very familiarity (“that’s what happens when you go up against the police”) invokes a tradition, a lurking specter of despotic power. There is a power that emerges at moments in US labor history and, more routinely, in the suppression of anti-racist movements (for instance, the assault on the Dorismund funeral in 2000) which, although not an “extreme response to a crisis,” is not without its fascistic appearance. It means that we must examine Hakim’s story as more than just another instance of traditional (rogue) policing. The difference between his story and the European model is the question of race and racialization.
Indeed, a significant difference emerges between US labor history and the usual portrayal of anti-racist movements. The labor movement has generally been granted social acceptability, continuity and status, though it pays for that by assiduously leaving class-oriented politics to others. But from early civil rights to black power and today’s immigrant rights movements, anti-racist struggles have been marginalized and generally dehistoricized, viewed as a series of isolated instances, demonstrations, assassinations and frame-ups (like that of Hakim), without continuity. Even civil rights legislation passed to resolve racial discrimination has been used to foster a perception of atomization; by transferring the fight against discrimination to the alienating mechanics of court cases and suits, it neutralizes the communal cohesion and participation of the movements that inspired the politics of civil rights. The resistance of black and brown people to racial oppression remains a sequence of disconnected dots on the historical screen, relieving white society of having to recognize its history of racial repression as systemic.
To pose the question that police rule raises means to examine its antecedents in previous periods. It has changed its shape from era to era, but in each is expressed an underlying structure. If that structure produces fascistic procedures and processes from time to time, while departing significantly from the European model, then we must guard against the European model skewing our analysis of it.
At the center of Hakim’s story is the political relation between police operations and drugs. From Serpico4 to Gary Webb, local police and federal involvement in drug trafficking has been documented and described (Scott & Marshall). The primary benefits to the police are, of course, monetary; the pay-offs are enormous. But there are others. Drugs tend to neutralize or disrupt the political and social coherence of a community (Webb: 375). In the wake of the movements for self-determination and cultural autonomy of the 1960s and 70s (black power, AIM, La Raza, and so on), the “stoning out” (as Gary Webb describes it) of politicized communities is of more than incidental interest to the police.5 In addition, police drug involvement connects them to the vast network of pushers as sources of information, that is, it provides the police with a free informer network. This doubling of criminals (traffickers) as informants occurs at both the domestic and the international levels (Castillo; Scott: 171).
But there is a fourth factor. The presence of drugs gets people fighting among themselves over the money generated by trafficking. Massive drug presence in a community produces a strung-out and desperate populace, increasing petty crime and gang warfare over control of the trade. A tide of actual criminality emerges, feeding stereotypes that have criminalized those communities before the fact. Ostensibly to stem this tide, police departments demand bigger appropriations from state legislatures. They expand to become very powerful political forces in urban areas, which they manifest through increased militarization and aggressiveness (Parenti; Martinot 2003b). That power is now nationally coordinated and centralized through the Law Enforcement Assistance Act passed under Nixon.
And herein lies an inversion of the European model of a despotic right-wing seizure of power. Police rule emerges from within established governing structures, rather than from beyond those structures. And it deploys the terrorism invoked by criminalization and drug trafficking rather than the bigoted chauvinism of, for instance, anti-semitism. Let us first examine the system that contextualizes this emergence of police rule.
Today, the US has the largest prison system in the world (in numbers and per capita), housing 2.3 million people. 80% of its inmates are people of color. People of color, comprising roughly a quarter of the US population, do not commit 80% of the crime in the US. So the prison industry signifies something else (Davis). Its first meaning is a massive exercise of racial profiling (a system of noticing) by the police, producing racialized arrest patterns. Police profiling is empowered and authorized through a system of victimless crime laws, of which drug possession laws are the most used. Victimless crime laws permit the police to accuse and apprehend people without recourse to a complainant. Obviating the complainant allows an officer to suspect or determine criminality autonomously, and to extend “probable cause” to a spectrum of arbitrary or gratuitous decisions concerning search or control.6 To the extent that responsibility to due process diminishes, law enforcement becomes autocratic. Indeed, profiling is the inverse of law enforcement. In law enforcement, a crime is committed and the police look for a suspect; in profiling, the police commit an act of suspicion, and then look for a crime for the suspect to have committed.
Further autonomy is granted the police by obedience statutes. The standards regarding “disobeying an officer” have been strengthened to the point of impunity. An officer can criminalize any person at will. He has simply to issue a command, or handle a person in a way that will be humiliating to that person; then, should the individual defend his/her dignity or self-respect, it can be interpreted as resistance or disobedience. In other words, by provoking resistance to humiliation, the officer has the power to criminalize dignity or self-respect, and “respond” to that “offender” with force (Rabb). Though police manuals may describe the proper uses of force, it is left to the officer to determine the level of obedience desired from a detainee, for which force is then authorized.7 A police department that sanctions profiling and impunity is arrogating a form of despotic governance to itself (Roberts). Since the criminalization of persons is the domain of the judiciary, police officers become judicial powers in themselves. That is, each officer becomes a law unto himself. This is, in effect, what impunity means.
Judiciary officialdom ratifies and legitimizes police racial profiling through biased prosecutorial procedures. Black and brown people are routinely charged with felonies where white people would be charged with misdemeanors (Taylor). Black men are incarcerated at 6.5 times the rate of white men (Sabol et al.). People of color also get longer sentences for identical convictions – 49% higher for federal drug offenses (Meierhoefer). The cocaine laws are the most overt example of this judicial bias. The sentence for possession of 100 grams of powder cocaine (used mostly in white communities) is 5 years; that for 5 grams of crack cocaine (used mainly in black and brown communities) is 20 years.8
This structure of police authority, against which civilians have little recourse, coupled with racial profiling, effectively criminalizes race (color). Police operations divide civil society into two groups, those racially profiled (racialized) and those not racially profiled (whites); that is, those whose humanity will be discounted and criminalized, and those whose humanity will be respected. It amounts to a process of segregation, different in form from that of Jim Crow, but with the same content or ethos. And it has funneled masses of people of color into the ultimate segregation of prison.
The social effects of this process are catastrophic, yet familiar. Not only does felonization of a population insure massive unemployment (a general tendency not to hire people with a record), but routine felony charges amount to systematic disenfranchisement (14% of black people by 1998, according to Fellner & Mauer). Recent studies indicate that one out of every three black men under the age of 30 has been through the judicial system in the last 25 years (Mauer & Young). To continually remove a sizable number of people from a community in this way constitutes a massive disruption of its social coherence. This disruption buttresses its criminalization as a community in white society’s eyes, and rationalizes the disinvestment of capital and a general financial obstruction of community asset accumulation. Racial oppression, impoverishment, imprisonment and police impunity are all of a piece.
Ultimately, the increase in prison population has become one of the arguments, in social discourse, for further drug laws and racial profiling. It is a self-generating cycle. What is significant about it is that it is not perceived by white society at large as an extant injustice. Instead, more prisons are called for and accepted, again with a sense of cultural familiarity (“How else are we going to deal with crime?”). This acceptance euphemizes itself in political campaigns as being “hard on crime” as opposed to addressing the social conditions that generate crime. It inhabits a white consensus in solidarity with the police and prison industry that has allowed for their untrammeled growth – a consensus whose content is white racialized identity.
In effect, the police have racialized white society through their racialization and criminalization of black and brown communities. On the one hand, police rule constructs a despotic system of racialization; on the other, it imposes a security ideology on white society in defense against a social threat that it (police rule) has created: a security ideology it demonstrates and reifies through its militarized operations and its impunity.
Two questions now present themselves. What is the origin and class nature of the structure of racialization that the police enact? And what is the historical source of the passive acceptance, the familiarity that white society evinces toward the injustices of police rule? To confront the phenomenon of social familiarity is to discern the shadow of history and of historical continuity, of an ethos that refuses to consign itself to the past.
The structure of racialization
The historical thrust of these questions is: what existed before the civil rights movements that police rule continues to reflect? Police profiling obviously echoes the segregationist system of the Jim Crow era. And since the US has been a racialized society since before Jim Crow was instituted, the links should reach back into the slavery era. If we work backward through these three periods – from the present era to the Jim Crow era, and to the slavery era – a common structure reveals itself as a source of familiarity.
The Jim Crow era was characterized by an intricate, universal, and totalitarian system of segregation and disenfranchisement of black people. While it had legal status only in the southern states, the ethos of segregation (in housing, jobs, education, and enfranchisement) extended throughout the US, with certain exceptions standing out as proof of its generality. After emancipation, newly freed black rural workers and farmers in the south were tied to the land as tenants, sharecroppers, or small landowners by a system of debt servitude. Each year, a farmer or laborer would find himself more in debt owing to predatory lending practices (usually by local commercial and real estate companies) and white control of supplies and markets (Du Bois 1903). Having no standing in court to testify against white people, black farm laborers remained victims of this impoverishment machine, with little recourse. The small black middle class had to be careful not to stand out, lest they too be threatened with impoverishment. Those who fled to escape their debt servitude were thrown on a chain gang when caught, where they could be held indefinitely at the whim of the prison administration or the commercial interests of the region.
The rules of segregation were so complex and extensive, however, that enforcement depended on the total involvement of white society. Each white person had the power (and responsibility) to apprehend and punish any violator of regulations – that is, to have the person beaten, incarcerated or fined for it. In effect, impunity was extended to all whites as such. In the extreme, it took the form of ritual mob murder (Wells).
What police profiling replaced was legislated segregation; what the prison industry replaced was the chain gang system; police impunity in the present era replaces the impunity granted all whites by Jim Crow legislation. Under Jim Crow, communities of color were reduced (from their moment of relative freedom under Reconstruction) to colonial status, characterized by restriction of movement, withholding of rights, ghettoization, and impoverishment. The boundary between those with impunity and those without franchise was the institutional expression of social racialization.
Jim Crow racialization, in its totalitarianism, meant that all white people were watched by all other whites to insure that they performed their role as control stratum over the black population. As Theodore Allen has described it, to conscript the working classes of a society into a control stratum is also a mode of controlling those working classes (Allen: 249). Rather than a community, white society is more properly understood as a form of socius characterized by a sense of membership (and social atomization) for which the constant demonstration of allegiance to whiteness constitutes the dues. Failure to demonstrate attitudes proper to the continual racialization of black people (commonly called “racism”) could lead to censure or worse (Van den Berghe’s “herrenvolk” state), inculcating a white fear of not belonging. Though white people racialized themselves as white through their racialization of black people as other, the true meaning of this process is a system of serialized and objectifying relations between whites (Du Bois 1915; Sartre: 301). It is this socius that is constructed through the structure of prison, impunity, and segregation.
In the preceding slavery era, we find the same structure. Many people today see the present prison-industrial complex as a reinstitution of slavery (Davis). But slavery itself is more properly understood as a form of prison labor. The plantations were places of forced labor (like concentration camps) to which black bond-laborers were confined under landowner impunity, needing a special pass to leave its confines. (To see slavery as prison labor also avoids the conceptual contortions needed to think of persons as property capable of being owned.) The slave codes, and the terrorism of the patrols, constituted the social boundary of segregation between bond-laborers without rights and a white society superiorizing itself through this structure of racialization.
In sum, “racialization” means the imposition of a system of hierarchical social categories, for which color is an iconic, not a genetic determinant; that is, “race” is something that one group of people does to another. White people racialize others as non-white in order to racialize themselves as white. In each era, this has involved a structure of imprisonment, white impunity, segregation and impoverishment. It constitutes a constant historical thread in the US, providing the parameters by which the white socius constructs itself, and within which a white racialized identity has been shaped (whiteness as a social and cultural identity). While social racialization has manifested itself in different juridical, political or social terms in different eras, its underlying structure has been the same. Each era has expressed itself through socio-political machinery by which the white socius has racialized itself as white through its racialization of people of color. In addition, each era has revealed an activist segment of the white socius whose agency has driven the process of racialization, and enforced the allegiance of other less-activist whites (in the present, it is the police; for Jim Crow, the paramilitaries; during the slavery era, it was the “white nation” ideologues, the international slave traders, and the Democratic Party representing the southern plantation economy). If the prisons (plantations, chain gangs, penitentiaries) map onto the concentration camps of the Nazi regime in Germany, this activist sector plays the role of the Nazi Party.
The history of white racialized identity
The core of the white socius is white racialized identity, the identity assumed by the people who coalesce within it in each of the three eras. But white racialized identity has a history. It had a beginning. When the Europeans first settled the Americas, they did not see themselves as white. Race and whiteness evolved as forms of social categorization and cultural identity over the course of a century (appearing in Virginia only after the 1680s), as part of the colonization process. Race was essentially invented to rationalize the seizure of indigenous land and the kidnapping of both indigenous and African people for plantation labor. That rationalization took the form of race not only to separate English and African bond-laborers, but to provide an alternate form of allegiance that would bind English labor to white society first and foremost. Before the invention of race and whiteness, the colonial leadership had sought in vain to separate bond-laborers, and to suppress the common cause they had made against their shared hardships, most often in escaping.9 It was the cultural development of white racialized identity that shifted English laborer consciousness from labor solidarity to white allegiance.
The turning point in this process was Bacon’s rebellion of 1676. It marked a spectacular moment of devastation of the colony’s social coherence. When reinforcements arrived, they found English and Africans together under arms in Bacon’s army, and faced the daunting task of reconstructing both the property-oriented economy and a sense of English allegiance. The alternative that lurked in the hinterlands was the cooperativist agriculture practiced by the indigenous, which could easily be applied to the plantations. As a first step, the Colonial Council promulgated a social paranoia toward the possibility of African rebellion. Recalling the hardships endured during Bacon’s war, it invented a discourse that associated those hardships only with a possible future “Negro” rebellion. The Council then called the English to a collective stance of solidarity against that threat. As a defensive solidarity, it fostered support for the passage of the slave codes (in 1682 and 1705), despite their variance from traditional English law. By imprisoning labor through the slave codes, the Council turned the entire English settlement into a society of guardians, from within which a sense of white identity and a culture of whiteness emerged (Allen; Martinot 2003a: 67).
The ultimate consolidation of whiteness as a cultural identity, however, occurred through violence: the slave patrols. The patrols were composed of conscripted poor whites to form an intermediary control stratum between the colony and its black labor force (Allen: 251). Their task was to stop runaways, and disrupt any signs of association or social autonomy among the Africans. In short order, patrol suppression of anything that might signify black bond-laborer autonomy received the approbation of the colonial elite as a discovery of a threat. The poorer whites thus gained inclusion in the colonial society from which they had previously been marginalized (Stampp: 214; Genovese: 135). Patrol violence made the colony’s original paranoia seem real, gave it assurance that its enslavement of the Africans was justified, and gave concrete expression to the white sense of threat.
In order to further enhance their social inclusion, the patrols soon engaged in gratuitous violence against the black bond-laborers, representing it as actual suppression of rebellion. The sense of social inclusion thus fostered, in the context of the indispensability of a control stratum to control the African bond-laborers, marks the inception of a bargain between classes in the English settlements. It is here that the historical tendency among US workers to prioritize white solidarity over class solidarity originates. It emerged from the cycle of paranoia, enslavement, social categorization, and violence toward the Africans that unified the English around a sense of white identity; it would later emerge as class collaboration in subsequent forms of racialization (Martinot 2003a: 68).
Overall, violence, paranoia, and social solidarity constituted a self-generating cycle. Social paranoia necessitates defensive solidarity; defensive consensus requires violence to neutralize the perceived threat; the violence not only makes the original paranoia seem real, but creates more palpable resistance on the part of those it subjugates, and thus greater fear among the dominant, calling for greater solidarity and violence. Whiteness as a social identity emerged from this cycle. The culture of whiteness, the criminality of its oppressive violence, its psychology of fear and endless defensive solidarity then served to mitigate white society’s internal class contradictions and conflicts.
This cycle of threat (paranoia), a demand for social allegiance, and gratuitous violence is evident throughout US history. Jim Crow demonized black men as prone to assault, against which segregation was proclaimed a defense, and for which mob murder was ritualized to legitimize that paranoid assessment and provide a sense of white belonging (Hale). In the present era, even as mild a corrective of past discrimination as “affirmative action” was greeted with “they want to take over everything” by a populist movement whose slogan about “reverse discrimination” did endless conceptual violence to the idea of equality, and whose harassment of black people in formerly “white” jobs made even partial programs ineffective. In the present invasion and occupation of Iraq, the first step was to invent a threat (WMDs) and, following the invasion, call for solidarity to “support the troops”; subsequently, the US military destroyed entire towns and decimated neighborhoods in Iraq because it could say that Iraqis were attacking Americans.
What this culture of whiteness must seek to disguise from itself, however, is its dependence on black people, because it is through their continual racialization that whites racialize themselves as white. That is, early plantation capitalist dependence on black labor got transformed into a cultural and identity dependence (through the invention of “race”) that threads itself through all US history. White identity finds its center in black people, and not in itself. It obsessively suppresses black political autonomy and community economic self-determination in order to maintain control over that external source of its own identity. The continual impoverishment of black people to render them economically and politically dependent on white society is the first exigency of white racialized identity; hence the white necessity to dismantle affirmative action.
It is in terms of this dependence that white society experiences a crisis. White racialized rule depends on two structures, an underlying structure of racialization and the cohesion of white culture around white racialized identity. Where European fascism responded to a structural crisis in capitalism, white racialized rule responds to a crisis in those structures, a structural crisis in whiteness. To the extent that its response takes the extreme form of violent rule, it is fascist.
The crisis that besets whiteness
For each era – following the revolution, the Civil War, and the civil rights upheavals – a pattern of crisis is discernible. A document is produced that affirms social equality (the Declaration of Independence of 1776, the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, and Brown vs. Board of Education of 1954). A movement then arises that takes that document seriously (abolitionism, Reconstruction’s multi-raciality of governance, and the civil rights movements), and seeks to construct a real democracy for the people, both black and white. And that movement then produces a crisis for white racialized identity, in response to which the white socius renovates its structures of racialization, in order to reconstitute the cohesion of the culture of whiteness. The identity crisis for whites emerges from the force of autonomy and equality in the hands of those upon whom white identity depends. And in each case, the white socius has responded with a multitude of forms of violence, and a demand for white allegiance. The vast defense of slavery, the KKK and other paramilitary operations, and the prison-industrial complex, all participate in the emergence of what could be called “white-identity fascism.” But let’s look at each era individually, since whiteness reconstituted itself differently each time through a new paranoia, a new prison system, and a new form of impunity, based on the new conditions it faced.
The Declaration of Independence first raised the issue of equality. After the revolution, the southern states found themselves defending slavery because the north began abolishing it. Yet northern abolition was gradual, acquiescing to the concomitant sanctification of property in the Declaration and the Constitution. The issue of reimbursement of slaveowners for their “property” predominated in the debates, and corroded the abolition movement’s focus on economic justice, reducing its critique to a moral argument. As a result, when northern constituencies agreed to abolish bond-labor if disenfranchisement and segregation of free black people replaced it, mainstream abolitionism had little to offer in opposition (Kraditor). Indeed, many agreed that segregation and disenfranchisement of black people was necessary. That is, white abolitionism fell prey to the paranoia at the heart of white identity, fearing along with the rest of white society the effect of having free black people live contiguously with whites. The human meaning of the right to rebel against social injustice became a marginalized radical idea (maintained by few, such as John Brown and Frederick Douglass, in their different ways). Insofar as northern white abolitionists coalesced with the mainstream white consensus on the questions of northern segregation, the question of justice disappeared under the regional struggles for federal hegemony between the north and the south, around the pragmatic issue of slavery’s extension in the territories, and thus politics was preserved as white politics.
In effect, the reconstruction of white cultural coherence and white consensual solidarity transformed the issue of justice into a restructuring of governance. The guarantee of the right to property, made a white right by the fact of (and constitutional provision for) black enslavement, was the axis around which white society reconstituted its social identity following its disruption by the ideals of the Declaration. Black disenfranchisement in the 1830s, the Dred Scott decision of 1857, and a general violence toward fugitives and anti-slavery advocates were all part of this white reconstruction process. They served the same purpose as the initial slave codes of the 1700s for white self-racialization.
This period also marks the early participation of white workers in resolving the crisis in white racialized identity. In the north, after the revolution, free black workers (many thousands in the big cities) were excluded from working-class organizations by white workers (McManus; Litwack). White skilled workers sought various means of organization in order to participate politically in the new states. By excluding (free) black workers, they were proclaiming that their identification as white preceded their identification as a class of workers. In thus defining themselves as the working class through that exclusionism, they were also defining the working class as white. Thus, again serving as a control stratum, they renewed the 18th-century bargain which had created the white socius. Controlled as workers by controlling black workers, white workers fell into a niche which closely parallels that described for the working class in Sohn-Rethel’s portrait of fascism. Their ultimate voicelessness, the failure of the Workingman’s Party, and their political absorption into the Democratic Party, are further moments of this story (unfortunately too complex to be told here).
As a social movement, the reconstruction of whiteness had its ideologues and theoreticians. Judge Taney, for instance, in his Dred Scott decision, presents a comprehensive theory of the white nation, and of white nationalism. And so does the southern sociologist, George Fitzhugh. Writing in the 1850s, Fitzhugh presents the thesis that slave society succeeds where “free society” (the north) fails, precisely in accepting the price for labor control. For Fitzhugh, northern capitalist society has failed because it offers no protection to its laborers, while slavery does. He relies on the usual white assumptions of black inferiority or incapacity, thereby valorizing slavery as a benefit to black people, a way of caring for them. And he quotes abolitionists and socialists of the north who, in their anti-capitalist critique, articulate capitalism’s predatory nature (97). In contradistinction, because the African American bond-laborers constitute capital for the southern slaveholder, they are protected, provided a security withheld from free wage-laborers (87). In addition, property symbolizes the proper dominations of a well-ordered society: husband over wife, parent over child, the hegemony of Christianity, state security, etc. (93).
But, he adds, “The price of security is and has always been the loss of liberty” (94). Those who provide that security gain freedom as their due. Against European criticism during the 1820s that the US could not be a free country since it was a slave state, the standard defense of slavery was that for men to be free they had to dominate others, and those who dominated the most absolutely (e.g. slaveholders) were thus the most free (Tise). In the name of freedom, Fitzhugh thus resolves the class contradiction of capitalist society through absolute labor control (Who could resist quoting here the well-known “Arbeit macht frei”?).
Fitzhugh is thus an early theoretician of the security state and of “national security” (the security of the white nation). Interestingly, his discourse parallels and prefigures that of the Cold War rhetoric of the 1950s, 100 years ahead of its time. In the name of the protection of private property, he lumps abolitionism and socialism together as a communist menace (85), and proclaims them an alien enemy intent on subverting the American way of life (shades of McCarthy).
Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era
After the Civil War and Reconstruction, a different crisis occurred to whiteness and its cultural coherence. And a different form of reconstitution ensued, though in the same systemic terms. The Reconstruction state governments demonstrated, against significant odds, the ability of whites and blacks to work together politically, calling into question the claimed superiority of whiteness and the white socius. The structure of Jim Crow put in place after the overthrow of Reconstruction established the infrastructure of a new coherence for white culture. While its initial focus was white hegemony in the southern states, the segregationist ethos it engendered reverberated in all regions of the US, inducing increased ghettoization in northern cities, the Chinese exclusion movement, segregation in employment and government bureaucracies, etc.
The Jim Crow system was a direct adaptation of the structure of racialization to the socio-political changes wrought by emancipation. In place of the slave plantation, there was debt servitude and the chain gang; in place of landowner impunity, a general enforcement power given to all whites; in place of constitutional disenfranchisement, unconstitutional disenfranchisement. It wasn’t an economic crisis that spurred Jim Crow; the southern lands had been returned to their former owners by the end of the 1860s. It was a crisis in whiteness, in response to which the entire white socius was granted stormtrooper status over black people.
Socially, insofar as the abolition of slavery decommodified the black body, white paranoia refocused its sense of impunity on the black body itself, rather than on a threat of mass upheaval. An assaultive (rapist) character was projected onto black men, through which to sanctify the white body. It is this opposition of body to body that was symbolized by the ubiquity of “white” and “colored” signs. In addition, lynching, which had not been permissible when the commodified black body was an entry in some white landowner’s ledger, became an accepted form of white collective enforcement, using the individual black body to terrorize in place of the more general application of the whip (see note 7). The mobs cared minimally which black person was beaten or killed (Wells); their murders simply instituted the violence required to concretize a social consensus. In Waco, 1916, 10,000 people showed up to watch Jesse Washington be tortured to death. In Jack Johnson’s 1910 title fight in Reno, 16,000 white people attended, screaming for Johnson’s blood, and hundreds of black people were beaten and killed around the country when Johnson won the fight. An anti-lynching campaign led by white and black women at the turn of the century failed to elicit more than mild governmental attention to the problem. Thus, the state sanctioned the impunity assumed by the mobs.
Henry Grady, a well-known publicist for the “new South” during the 1880s, in arguing for recognition of the south as a special region with special status, echoes Fitzhugh’s insistence on absolute white control, adapted to post-civil war conditions. For whites to define their post-war status, he says, they have to define it for black people as well (affirming the dependence of white self-racialization on the racialization of black people). He also asserts that whiteness is a fraternity that goes deeper than party or political motives (Grady: 24). And he weaves together the ideology of this “fraternity” through a multitude of myths: the myth of the faithful slave, the myth of civil society in which the black person is welcomed though held back by his own ignorance and venality, the myth of white supremacy, of white southern blamelessness as the black person’s best friend, etc.
Whites must have control, however, and blacks and whites must walk separate paths, he says, because the existence of black people poses a threat. The possibility of black people being a political force implies that whites must unite to prevent blacks from using that force against whites. That means that the “new South” can exist only by disenfranchising black people. The alternative would enable black people as a (generalized) group to wield deciding votes in policy disputes among whites (30-33). Black people would then hold the balance of power, and thus dominate whites. Yet this, he says, is impossible because whites are the superior race and thus are not to be dominated.10 The call for national unity and the unity of white people are one and the same. The “God-given hierarchy of race” must be protected against the imminent threat posed by the black vote (39).
Reconstruction and the founding of white-crisis fascism
The overthrow of Reconstruction, beyond being the foundation of Jim Crow, marks a more singular moment in US history. Though black people had been freed, and southern land had been returned to its original owners, the need to re-imprison black farm laborers through debt servitude in the south, and ghettoization in the north, bespoke a more profound process than the mere restoration of economic stability and white hegemony. When Andrew Johnson made his remarks about the US being a “white man’s government” while campaigning for the vice-presidency in 1864, he was calling for a distinctly different kind of national reunification than was to be contained in the 14th and 15th Amendments, one closer to the past institutional tradition that the 13th Amendment would ostensibly cancel. It was a tradition that would obstruct the “de-racialization” of the US that the radicals of Reconstruction envisioned, and render the rule of Jim Crow altogether too familiar, almost to the point of being a carryover.
The paramilitary forces that raided Republican clubs throughout the south attacked white individuals who collaborated comfortably with blacks in state government, and terrorized black individuals who dared take political participation seriously, reflected that underlying structure of racialization (Bennett; Foner). But the anti-Reconstruction movement expressed more than a structure of racialization; it formed the core of a full-fledged “white-crisis fascism.” Like the weakness that the rise of fascism revealed in the Weimar republic, this movement to overthrow Reconstruction exposed a fatal weakness in that “social democratic” operation. Its success, partial though it was, in democratizing governance at the state level, put in question the allegiance to whiteness and the white nation at the federal level that had been resolved before the Civil War. And those state governments’ self-constraint to constitutionality left them open to paramilitary attack. Their abandonment by the federal government in 1876 brought the anti-Reconstructionists to power (Logan). And like urban police rule in the present era, the white-crisis fascism that took Reconstruction’s place emerged from within US society rather than as an extra-governmental right-wing movement.
It is indeed not improper to call it fascism with respect to that period, even in a classical sense. It had a component of corporate crisis. The economic crisis of the 1870s presented (colonizing) investment in the south as a panacea. But as the crisis wore on, and capital faced a massive industrial strike wave in railroad, mining, and other industries, it followed the anti-Reconstructionist lead and deployed militias, many in a paramilitary capacity, against the strikers. For corporate capital, the industrial unions had broken the class collaborationist bargain. The cohesion of the white nation was at stake, for which union leaders such as Debs were painted as traitors. In the name of (white) nationalism, other white workers and the white middle classes were turned against the striking unions, isolating them. It was not simply the threat of using black strike-breakers that rallied many white workers to the corporate cause (European immigrants were also used to break strikes). Whiteness was the partisan concept by which to resolve the economic problem. Later, in fact, at the turn of the century, the KKK was subsidized to set up offices in the Denver area to be an anti-union force among the miners of Colorado (almost all white). (It was out of these experiences that the corporations pushed for legal personhood – acquired in Southern Pacific vs. Santa Clara in 1886 – to give them more direct political participation in the nation’s governance.)
Thus, the white supremacist ethos that Grady articulated reflected itself in a totalitarian disposition toward both industrial workers and freed black bond-laborers. This explains the inordinate violence used against the industrial union movements of the 1870s and a generation later. Industrial unionism, much of it led by socialists, represented labor having stepped out of place, and abrogating recognition of elite white hegemony (again, whiteness as a social structure rather than just a “racial” designation), even though they were not contesting property rights.11 Gradually, through the development of Jim Crow segregationism over the next few decades, the class bargain was renewed, and industrial unionism brought back into the white socius (the abandonment of the IWW by the Western Federation of Miners in 1906 marking the culmination of that process).12 In the north as well as the south, middle- and working-class whites were re-conscripted into a control stratum that both consolidated Jim Crow and tamed industrial unionism.
In sum, a new form of social organization emerged during the 1880s through anti-Reconstruction in power, exemplified by the invention of corporate personhood, the stabilization of a two-party system stabilizing a Gradyan white political hegemony, and the institution of complex forms of black disenfranchisement and white impunity.13 In its wake, a greater ruthlessness took hold in US social thinking and policy, of which the suppression of industrial unionism had been a part. This ruthlessness expressed itself in the attempted obliteration of the indigenous, the suppression of all integrationism, an acceptance of white mob terrorism, the murderous intervention in the Philippines, and the conquest of Cuba and Puerto Rico; it was a ruthlessness that could drop an atomic bomb on Japan after it had sued for surrender, and later kill more than 2 million Vietnamese through US aggression in Vietnam.
Civil rights and the present era
In the present era, the pattern repeats. The civil rights movements of the 1950s and 60s undermined the cultural cohesion and superior pretensions of whiteness. In response, another restructuring of US society ensued in the context of, and against, the social justice gains of the civil rights movements. The movements forced the white socius to accept black (and brown) legal and voting rights. White hegemony responded by redefining the racialized as “minorities” (outvoted in advance), and erecting a segregating prison wall to signify outlaw status and disenfranchisement. Thus, it tailored its paranoia (criminalization) and its violence (profiling, imprisonment, and community disruption) to the new conditions.
We have already described the centrality of imprisonment and the system of white (police) impunity which, together with black disenfranchisement and the erosion of affirmative action, have served to restructure whiteness and white hegemony in the present era. But there is even a corporate component here. As wage levels rose in response to US post-WWII hegemonic status, industry sought to move to lower wage areas. While this would mean the decimation of major unions, it also promised to restore a more uniform whiteness to the work force. As factories closed, whites felt they would get priority in hiring in the new enterprises that would fill the economic vacuum. As a result, the wave of runaway shops that began in the 1970s, subsidized by the federal government, met almost no resistance from unions, city councils, or county officials. The union derogation was glaring; the right of property, and its axiomatic centrality to white solidarity, took precedence over maintaining an economy that both white and black workers had a stake in.
In The Crisis of Democracy, Samuel Huntington describes the structure of the political crisis of the 1960s and 70s. In his terms, the US experienced an unexpected increase in democratic political participation (the movements), accompanied by a decrease in confidence in government and institutional leadership (military, corporate, educational, etc.). He does not mince his words: “people no longer felt the same compulsion to obey those whom they had previously considered superior to themselves” (75). It marked an unusual inversion of democratic norms (wherein participation increases with confidence), producing a polarization between the people and the government (80). Party loyalty declined, he explains (91), as did the authority of the president (for Huntington, the locus of real governance). Institutional leadership itself began questioning its own abilities to rule (to win a war, to carry anti-poverty programs to fruition, to quell inflation, etc.) (93).
The name Huntington gives this crisis is an “excess of democracy.” He argues that “the effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and non-involvement on the part of … a marginal population” (for which he names and prioritizes “blacks”) (114). The crisis, for Huntington, can be traced to that marginal apathetic population having abandoned its marginality. And because the media showed greater allegiance to “humanity” than to governing institutions, it aggravated the crisis (99). Huntington actually counsels reining in the media (which has happened). In effect, marginal groups (mostly people of color) called into question the pretensions to superiority of white society and governance, the equation of governability with white supremacy, and the restriction of liberty already encountered in Grady and Fitzhugh.14
Summary: a theory of US fascism
In each era, the underlying ethos of imprisonment (paranoia), impunity (violence), and disenfranchisement (white solidarist consensus) re-emerges in new and different form. Each era faced a democratizing force as a threat, creating a crisis in white identity. Each era met that crisis by subjugated that democratizing force through structures it found familiar, even traditional, from the previous era. Each curtailment of the principle of equality was a reiteration of elements by which whiteness had originally defined itself (paranoia, consensus, violence). Each era structured its impunity on criminalization: under the slave codes, escape and rebellion were both “theft” and sedition; for Jim Crow segregation, the slightest sense of black dignity or autonomy would be perceived as a black assault on whites (even in 1954, a black man was convicted of rape in Florida for speaking to a white woman on the telephone); in the present era, police profiling and drug laws provide the context for both criminalization of and impunity toward communities of color. In each case, racializing structures give new form to a white racialized rule that responds to the identity-crisis and reestablishes the cohesiveness of whiteness.
In all three eras, the white socius has included all white identified and white-oriented people, across classes and across the spectrum of political positions on all issues. It is a self-referential socius whose seriality and internal alienation results from its insistence on unity and allegiance to itself and to the violence it perpetrates. As Arendt argues, totalitarianism needs to create atomized and isolated masses as its constituency, while breaking down class structures. (308) As a matrix for cultural identity, “white racialized rule” operates as just such a totalitarianism. It takes the form of “white-crisis fascism” when needed, but the culture of whiteness is its inner essence, its ideological content.
“Whiteness,” as the ideology of white-crisis fascism, or white racialized rule, rejects class equalization, or shared class participation in power, or working class power as such because working class power against capitalist exploitation would politically integrate the racialized with working class racializers in common struggle, violating the latter’s allegiance to whiteness. Weak apolitical unions and a politics of spectacle permit a white worker to belong to both (the party of whiteness and the class of workers). The hiatus between the two is then bridged by strongly defending the rights of property. Thus, white workers maintain their centuries-old bargain with the white elite, which has shown itself to have greater value for them than class struggle.
The sanctity of property right, we have seen, is central to the cohesion of whiteness as a cultural structure. It serves as a material axis around which class collaborations and bargains take on traditional cultural significance. Nevertheless, it is not the defense of property as such that underlies white racialized identity or the white-crisis fascism we are examining. White racialized identity uses the property ethic as its instrument. It is the violence and paranoia at the heart of white racialized identity that renders the sanctity of property fascist. That is, white-crisis fascism deploys violence to resolve its identity crisis; it deploys the structures of racialization to slowly and carefully reconstruct the culture of whiteness; and it deploys the property ethic to maintain the class bargain within the white socius.
The slowness of the process of reconstituting the culture of whiteness is not irrelevant. It is the reason, when compared with the rapidity of the European instances, that the US does not look fascist to many people. White-crisis fascism has dominated the US and the pre-US for over 300 years, as opposed to 12 (in Germany) or 22 (in Italy). The European forms required an overt seizure of power, and thus a more extreme character, in order to develop more rapidly.
In the US, on the other hand, after the revolution, the slow process of consolidating white racialized rule only culminated in the 1830s with the Jacksonian “producer ethic” and the disenfranchisement of black people in the north. After Reconstruction, it culminated with the generalization of segregation across the country. In the present era, it began in the 1970s, with the first stages of affirmative action repeal, and culminated with the consolidation of the prison-industrial complex and police impunity, the open stealing of elections without accountability, and the legitimation of Guantánamo as a paradigm. To insist on the European model is to blind oneself to the meaning of these slower implantations of white racialized rule. In reality, one could say that the European forms were actually modeled on the US (the German accentuating the racialized dimension, and the Italian its corporate personhood) – the prison and the concentration camp standing at the center of all.
Again, many whites who refuse to call this structure fascist point to elections, party primaries, the ability of third parties to field candidates, to edit independent newspapers, etc. For the most part, they also fail to examine whether these niceties of democratic procedure ever get beyond being mere spectacle.15 If the representative system does not work, (see note 13) and movements of people of color that seek to build community autonomy are ruthlessly repressed by the police and by FBI Cointelpro operations, then what more than political spectacle could elections and party newspapers be? (Churchill)
Leftwing movements that call for class solidarity have never fully understood why they get so little white working class support. They call for a form of solidarity that is anathema to a consciousness grounded in membership in the institutionality of whiteness. As Arendt has argued, loyalty to structures of domination presupposes a social atomization (323). Political class solidarity, for white workers, beyond tactical strike unity and the honoring of picket lines, would disrupt their atomization, and thus break with their allegiance to the dominance of white racialized identity.
White-crisis fascism presents a complex problem for any pro-democracy or pro-justice movement in the US. There is no party or institutionality wherein white-crisis fascism can be located or targeted. Instead, there is only the socius of white-identified people, of all those who participate in or accept the paranoia and violence of white racialized identity. In a banal sense, to be “white identified” simply signifies accepting and valorizing being white and belonging to US society as white. But whiteness is not banal; it is produced through violence, oppression, and terror gratuitously launched against other people who are racialized not-white in order to constitute white people as white. One is not born white; one is given one’s whiteness by a society that produces it – just as one is not born black but is given one’s blackness by a hegemonic white society that defines itself as white by doing so (nota bene: “white” and “black” are used here in their racialized, rather than their descriptive sense, meaning they refer to social categorizations rather than to actual color).
To be white-identified goes beyond self-recognition; it means seeing the social categorizations of race and the gratuitous modes of violence (historical, physical, psychic, as well as stereotyping identity violence) that constitute the relation of racializers to the racialized as positive values. Gratuitous actions are always identity-related because, as gratuitous, they are self-referential (Alcoff). Economic benefit may attach. But when white workers shun (multiracial) class solidarity for white class collaboration, they are prioritizing self-referential identity membership and benefit over class economics.16 To accept the cruelty that transforms victimization into the criminalization of its victims, from the torture of slavery to the new super-max prisons (founded on the principle of inducing madness), is to immerse oneself in that self-referentiality, and thus to be complicit in both that cruelty and its gratuitousness (Gordon).
One doesn’t have to commit the acts of violence to belong to the white socius that institutes itself through that violence. One has simply to identify with the socius that the violence defines to be complicit in it, a dues-paying member of the party of white racialized rule. Identification with that socius, acceptance of membership in it, identification with its institutionality, all define a social identity. Acceptance of a common identity of whiteness constitutes the institutionality with which one identifies. The institutionality of whiteness as a socius presents the social construct wherein identification with it produces social identity. Identification produces identity, which produces an institutionality, which produces identification. To affirm oneself as “white identified” is to participate in this cycle of whiteness.
If whiteness constitutes the ideology of white racialized rule, of participation in the structure of racialization as racializers, then one cannot identify as white and not be complicit in its oppressions, complicit in white racialized rule (and all the usual, banal actions that are traditionally called “racism”). One cannot absolve oneself from complicity in that structure (prison, impunity, segregation, capital deprivation, prohibition of autonomy and humanity, and hunger).
If, today, police suppression of black or brown autonomy, its murder of unarmed individuals, its wanton anti-immigrant raids, its frame-ups of anti-racist organizers, are acceptable to whites (that is, don’t provoke mass pro-democratic opposition), it is because white racialized identity already apprehends itself as threatened a priori (threatened, for instance, by the myth that Latino immigrants either want to sponge off white society or take it over completely). The inherent reality in that paranoia for whites is the threat of autonomy and democracy (beyond mere spectacle) among the racialized, because it would subvert the dependence of people of color on white society, and thus disrupt white dependence on people of color for their white racialized identity and the culture of whiteness.17 Police violence today is comforting for white-identified people because it makes the threat they need seem real, while providing security against it by holding black and brown people in place.
Adelson, Alan, and Kate Taverna, directors. The Lodz Ghetto: a documentary. Holocaust/Independent Film, 1989.
Alcoff, Linda Martin. Visible Identities: Race, Gender, and the Self. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Allen, Theodore. The Invention of the White Race, Vol. 2. New York: Verso, 1997.
Almaguer, Tomás. Racial Fault Lines. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1994.
Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Meridian Books, 1958.
Balko, Radley. Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America, Cato Institute, July 17, 2006; http://www.cato.org/pubs/wtpaper/balko_whitepaper.pdf
Bennett, Lerone. Black Power USA: the Human Side of Reconstruction. Baltimore: Penguin, 1969.
Britt, Lawrence. “Fascism Anyone?,” in Free Inquiry, Spring 2003, p. 20.
Cassidy, Peter. “Operation Ghetto Storm: Paramilitary Policing,” in Covert Action Quarterly 62, 1997.
Castillo, Celerino. Powderburns: Cocaine, Contras and the Drug War. Buffalo: Sundial Press, 1994.
Churchill, Ward. The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars against Dissent in the United States. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2002.
Crozier, Michel, Samuel Huntington and Joji Watanuki. The Crisis in Democracy. New York: New York Univ. Press, 1975.
Davis, Angela. Are prisons obsolete? New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003.
Dieter, Richard. “The Death Penalty in Black and White.” Death Penalty Information Center, June 1998. www.deathpenalty info.org/
Du Bois, W.E.B. 1903. The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Vintage books, 1990.
Du Bois, W.E.B. 1915. “The Souls of White Folk,” in Dusk of Dawn. New York : Oxford University Press, 2007.
Fellner, Jamie and Marc Mauer. “Losing the Vote: the impact of felony disenfranchisement laws in the US.” Wash. DC: The Sentencing Project, 1998.
Fitzhugh, George. Cannibals, All! Or Slaves Without Masters. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1960.
Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution. New York: Harper & Row, 1988.
French, Austa. Slavery in South Carolina. New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969.
Genovese, Eugene. Roll, Jordan, Roll. New York: Vintage Books, 1972.
Goldhagen, Daniel Jonah. Hitler’s Willing executioners. New York: Knopf, 1996.
Gordon, Avery. “Prison Looks Like Waging a Security War.” Le Monde Diplomatique, Nov. 2006.
Grady, Henry. The New South, and Other Addresses. New York: Haskell House, 1969.
Gross, Bertram. Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America. Boston: South End Press, 1980.
Guerin, Daniel. Fascism and Big Business. New York: Monad Press, 1973.
Hale, Grace. Making Whiteness. New York: Pantheon Books, 1998.
Hartman, Saidiya. Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-making in 19th century America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Hill, Herbert. “Myth-making as Labor History: Herbert Gutman and the United Mine Workers of America,” in Politics, Culture, and Society, vol.2 (2), Winter 1988, p. 132.
Huntington, Samuel P. et al. The Crisis of Democracy
Jackson, George. Solidad Brother. New York: Bantam, 1970.
Kraditor, Aileen. Means and Ends in American Abolitionism. Chicago: Ivan Dee, 1989.
Lifton, Robert Jay. The Nazi Doctors. New York: Basic Books, 1986.
Litwack, Leon. North of Slavery. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1961.
Logan, Rayford W. The Betrayal of the Negro. New York: Collier Books, 1965.
Martinot, Steve. 2003a. The Rule of Racialization. Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press, 2003.
Martinot, Steve. 2003b. “The Militarization of the Police,” in Social Identities, vol. 9 (2), June 2003, p. 205.
Mauer, Marc, and Huling Young. “Black Americans and the Criminal Justice System.” Wash. DC: The Sentencing Project, 1995.
McManus, Edgar. Black Bondage in the North. Syracuse: Syracuse Univ. Press, 1973.
Meierhoefer, B.S. “The general effect of Mandatory minimum prison terms.” Wash. DC: Federal Judicial Center, 1992.
Parenti, Christian. Lockdown America. New York: Verso, 1999.
Powell, Elwin. “Martin Sostre: Bookseller Turned Black Revolutionary (1967),” in The Buffalonian.
Rabb, Christopher. “The Crime of Breathing While Black,” in The Nation, Dec. 7, 2006.
Roberts, Paul Craig. “A Pandemic of Police Brutality,” in Counterpunch, Sep 26, 2007
Rymer, Russ. American Beach. New York: Harper, Collins, 1998.
Sabol, William, Todd Minton and Paige Harrison. “Prison and Jail inmates midyear 2006,” in Bureau of Justice Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, June 2007.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. Critique of Dialectical Reason, trans. Alan Sheridan. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1976.
Scott, Peter Dale, and Jonathan Marshall. Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies, and the CIA in Central America. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1991.
Sohn-Rethel, Alfred. The Economy and Class Structure of German Fascism. London: Free Association, 1987.
Stampp, Kenneth. The Peculiar Institution. New York: Vintage Books, 1956.
Taylor, Keeanga-Yamahtta. “Racism and the Criminal Injustice System.” Counterpunch, Dec. 2, 2006.
Tise, Larry. Proslavery. Athens, Ga.: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1987.
Van den Berghe, Pierre L. Race and Racism: A Comparative Perspective. New York: Wiley, 1967.
Webb, Gary. Dark Alliance. New York: Seven Stories Press, 1998.
Wells, Ida. On Lynching: Southern Horrors. New York: Arno Press, 1969.
Wilson, Lynne. “Selling SWAT,” in Covert Action Quarterly 62, 1997.
Wolf, Naomi. “Fascist America, in 10 easy steps,” in The Guardian, April 24, 2007 www.guardian.co.uk
1. Thalia Drori, Adam Abdul Hakim: One Who Survived, a documentary. Thalia Drori Productions, 1992.
2. Britt’s description is consistent with Sohn-Rethel’s account of fascism in Germany, among others. The Nazis appealed to middle class fear of a loss of status due to economic crisis. They built a movement through nationalism and bigotry that supported militarization, police rule, guaranteed corporate profitability, decimated unions, and a regimented labor force. For Sohn-Rechel, class considerations were of greater importance than the racialized nationalism used by the Nazis. Hannah Arendt varies this account in arguing that “Totalitarian movements aim at and succeed in organizing masses – not classes” (Arendt: 308). She analyses how totalitarian movements “atomize and isolate individuals” (323). For Arendt, fascist politics becomes feasible only when a mass of people has been generated by capitalism that are devoid of social principles (156f).
3. SWAT team operations are presented on TV cop shows as well choreographed high-tech raids in dangerous situations. But 80% of their “raids” are to serve warrants on people of color for non-violent crimes. Cf. Cassidy; Wilson; Balko.
4. See Peter Mass, Serpico (New York: Viking Press, 1973). Many people are familiar with the Serpico story by way of Sidney Lumet’s 1973 film Serpico, starring Al Pacino in the title role. The story is of a New York City police officer who refuses to participate in police involvement with drug trafficking.
5. Community self-education has often fallen prey to the police use of drug busts, used to close down black bookstores hosting reading and discussion groups on black history and social thought. Typically, an undercover agent would enter, leave a bag of heroin behind some books, and the police would raid a few minutes later, finding the bag, impounding the store, and imprisoning the proprietor (Powell).
6. There has been a process of gradual relaxation of the need for warrants – for instance, the use of defective warrants (US v Leon) – by the courts and the legislature, which enhances this police power (Parenti: 48).
7. The requirement for obedience often takes lethal form. Teenagers have been shot in the back and killed in Oakland when they have turned and walked away from an officer who was harassing them (e.g. Gary King, shot in the back by an Oakland police officer in Sept. 2007). www.counterpunch.org/maher09242007.html. The torture of black bond-laborers by whipping was the usual form the demand for obedience took during the slavery era, even to the point of requiring a performance of contentment and gratitude at being tortured, as Austa French reports from her interviews with former slaves in the Port Royal area of South Carolina in 1863. Those who failed to smile and show gratitude were then doubly whipped. Saidiya Hartman writes of the enforcement of “contentment performance” in her book, Scenes of Subjugation. In one of French’s reports, a landowner asks his bondlaborers if they want to be whipped; they not only say yes, but crowd in to be first, knowing two things: that the whipping gets worse the more this man does it, and that to say no would make the whipping all the more severe (French: 68). Torture as the fundamental expression of impunity, and impunity as power is the fundamental aspect of imprisonment.
8. In a recent death penalty appeal, lawyers presented massive sociological data showing racism to be a factor in who got convicted, what their sentences were, and who got the death penalty. The ratio of black or brown against white was 8 to 1 (McKleskey vs. Kemp 481 US 279 ). They moved to vacate the death sentence in light of the clear presence of racial discrimination. The judge agreed with the statistical conclusion but denied the motion, saying that racism had to be proved for this specific case, while statistical data was derived only from other cases (Dieter). Thus, a provable totalitarian dynamic can hide behind individuation within a judicial process that itself reduces individuals to generalizations through profiling.
9. Bond-labor, whether as indentured servitude or enslavement, was essential for the development of capitalism prior to its having sufficiently commodified the social infrastructure for a wages system to work. The wages system, based on the threat of being fired, serves as a means of labor control only if workers have no autonomous means of survival (farming, for instance) and must buy all their subsistence. This requires the total commodification of society. Prior to that condition, capital necessitates partial or total enslavement to control its labor force. Wage labor (and market competition) are luxuries capitalism can afford only after full social commodification has been achieved.
10. Reading Grady, one is reminded of the shrillness by which the alleged Iraqi threat was posed, forgetting the decade of horrendous embargo to which Iraq had been subjected after its infrastructure was destroyed by US bombing in 1991. And Grady’s double talk is reminiscent of all totalitarians. “Let us resolve that never… by internal division shall [the Negro] establish domination… over the race that everywhere has maintained its supremacy” (39); to which he appends “Let this resolution be cast on the lines of equity and justice.” One encounters similar doubletalk when affirmative action is called “reverse discrimination.”
11. In the context of a labor betrayal of whiteness being un-American, the passage of the Taft-Hartley act, which barred communists from union office, appeared to a large segment of white workers as a reaffirmation of the white bargain, and the reconstitution of whiteness as Americanism within the white nation.
12. Herbert Hill, in his critique of Herbert Gutman, alludes to a moment in this process. According to Hill, Gutman had over-valorized an anti-racist dimension of the UMW. The story concerned a black miner elected to the union’s executive board in the 1890s. Hill criticizes Gutman for not having followed through to the abandonment of the black board member, and the increasing segregation of the coal mines (Hill).
13. In terms of corporate personhood, it cannot be divorced from the two-party system. They are two responses to the unworkability of representationism. A single delegate, winner-take-all electoral system places the elected delegate in an impossible situation, representing a district containing contradictory class, cultural, ideological and identity interests. A representative simply cannot represent. And the winner-take-all process means the minority party membership is disenfranchised, with no representation. Legislators trade projects in political isolation, and obey the highest bidder. The two-party system not only controls, without popular participation, which issues will be of importance and which not; it continually disqualifies third parties through the lesser-of-two-evils paradigm. Representationism worked only during a few early decades when constituencies were fairly homogeneous, composed of white male property owners. But it was unable to resolve conflicts among the elite, often producing civil war (as seen in Latin America during the 19th century when nations newly liberated from Spain adopted the US system and descended into horrendous partisan conflicts; and the US Civil War itself). Corporate personhood was established to provide a different overarching homogeneous political constituency that would modulate economic differences out of reach of mere humans. The two-party system and corporate personhood mutually strengthen each other.
14. Huntington has more recently written a panicky essay on Latino immigrants becoming a majority in certain areas of the US. Not only is the direct implication of his panic an admission that democracy can only be white, but his account of why this is a threat structurally parallels European anti-semitism. Cf.
15. The question of torture is relevant here. Most white people think torture is absent in the US, and that it is for the purposes of obtaining information under the fascist model. The Abu Ghraib revelations of gratuitous torture were therefore a shock. But torture has been used to obtain obedience and obeisance. In police stations throughout the US, it is used to force confessions – mostly from people of color. When specific instances are revealed (Abner Louima or Adam Hakim, for example, both gratuitous), they have little weight against the ethic of police impunity (just as the torture of slaves had no weight against property “rights”). When police officers beat people on the street, it is to obtain obeisance. Such beatings, inflicting injury to obtain obedience, constitutes torture; indeed, state sanctioned torture (Gordon).
16. This was something that the Jews of the ghettos established by the Nazis could never understand. Jewish councils were created to “govern” the ghettos (Lodz, Warsaw, etc.). They established production facilities making goods for the Nazi war machine, thinking that if the Nazis profited from Jewish labor, they wouldn’t kill them. They were wrong. Profitability took a back seat to the German need to kill Jews for its own sake (Adelson et al; Goldhagen).
17. Autonomy, of course, is irrepressible, for black people as well as for Native Americans and Chicanos; but it is a complex process. Under Jim Crow, black people utilized business categories in which whites wouldn’t deal with black people to establish some economic autonomy: funeral parlors, life insurance companies, etc. They built churches and black-oriented religions; they created musics and forms of performance of the social as a community (Rymer). Ironically, with the lifting of Jim Crow in the 60s, black people were suddenly able to shop in white stores, and the black stores they used to support lost business. Black power, on the other hand, was brutally suppressed.