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‘The White Republic’: Response by Bill Fletcher, Jr.

Article published:
Looking down at huge crowd thronging a Washington, D.C. street in a protest. Spots of bright color from T-shirts, hats and signs. Black Lives Matter signs visible throughout.

Bill Fletcher Jr. argues that to fight the white republic, we must build the politics of a new majority.

In “The White Republic and The Struggle for Racial Justice,” Bob Wing contended that the U.S. state is racist to the core, and this has specific implications for our movements’ work going forward, especially the need to replace this racist state with an anti-racist state. Here Bill Fletcher, Jr. kicks off a series of responses to Bob Wing’s article. “What I would add to what Bob has argued is that the fightback must necessitate the building of the politics of a “new majority,” he writes. OrgUp has published a number of other responses as well; we encourage readers to add your voice, and to check out the contributions from Gerald Horne, Erin Heaney, Peter Olney & Rand Wilson, Van Gosse, and Barry Eidlin. This discussion then wraps up with some concluding thoughts by Bob Wing

Build the politics of a new majority

There is little to disagree with in Bob Wing’s powerful piece, “The White Republic and the Struggle for Racial Justice.”  The argument is tight, concise, accurate and compelling.  The following, therefore, aims to highlight certain points and draw out pieces that I believe need further elaboration.

The white republic

Bob is correct in identifying the U.S. as a “white republic.”  It is important to clarify that the U.S. is a specific form of capitalist state.  It is not simply “racial capitalism” (is there any capitalism that is actually non-racial?) but is a racial settler state.  This is implicit in Bob’s piece, but it needs to be drawn out because it helps one to better understand the construction of racist and national oppression in the U.S.

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The thirteen colonies, and then the U.S., were founded on the basis of genocide against the First Nations and the annexation of their land.  This is critical to highlight because of the error of many people who see the “original sin” of the U.S. being exclusively that of racial slavery of Africans.  The founding of the settler-colony assumed the removal of the people who were already here.  This was followed by the introduction of forced labor from both Europe and Africa, and the eventual and orchestrated transformation of all African forced labor into racial slaves for life (and the lives of their children) by the end of the 1600s.

The expansion of this early capitalist state—the colonies followed by the U.S.—resulted in the racialization of acquired populations.  This is why the acronym that has become strangely popular—“BIPOC” (Black, Indigenous & People Of Color)—misses the mark entirely.  BIPOC invisible-izes acquired, racialized populations and the reality of settler-colonial expansion.  With the expansion, the newly acquired populations, e.g., Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Micronesians, Hawaiians, as well as imported Asians, were racialized.  They were placed in a specific racial hierarchy in order to both justify their oppression as well as to implement social control over all subaltern populations.

The “white republic” is an effective way to define and articulate this construction and it is the renewal of the white republic that right-wing populists today lust after.  They, and particularly the neofascists, wish the formal reestablishment of such a state, which is one of the reasons that the description of the nationally specific form of right-wing populism as “neo-Confederate” is so compelling.

White privilege

Bob’s assertion of the importance of the concept of “white privilege” needs to be applauded and reiterated.  But it also needs a slight clarification.

In part because of the way that the term has been bastardized by many people infected with postmodernism, it is important to understand white privilege as representing a “system” rather than a set of holiday presents given out to so-called white people.  White privilege means a system that ensures a differential in treatment imposed on populations by the ruling elite.  This is not, in the main, a problem of the behavior of this or that individual.  It is instead suggesting that a particular population is defined by the ruling elites as being relevant and, in fact, superior, therefore making them eligible for a certain level of treatment superior to those beneath them.  This differential in treatment does not rest upon the strengths or weaknesses of the economy but is built into the system and into the state over decades and centuries.  It plays itself out in all fields, including jobs, housing, education, healthcare, and law enforcement.

Thus, opposing white privilege is not represented by a white person standing up in a conference renouncing their “white privilege,” but rather by the actual practice of anti-racist class struggle.  It can be symbolized by the John Browns and Ann Bradens of the world.

The rise of the New Right

Here I would slightly disagree with Bob.  Today’s right emerged out of the ashes of the Barry Goldwater campaign.  This soon-to-be-entitled “New Right” clearly formulated a struggle to overturn the “Second Reconstruction,” including but not limited to the victories of the Civil Rights Movement.  In fact, what came to be understood as “The New Right” sought to overturn the 20th century and the accumulated popular victories that had been won (particularly the victories in the struggles against male supremacy).  They undertook this work through a combination of litigation, legislation/political action, and the development of right-wing mass movements.  This is a critical point to emphasize because the battle, though mainly fought on the terrain of race, was far from exclusively fought there. For example, it extended to the fights around women’s and LGBTQ rights  and foreign policy.  What at first, to many, seemed to be an almost chaotic, spontaneous backlash was neither chaotic nor a backlash; it was a well-organized counterattack.

The mass movements tended to be led by cadre from various right-wing organizations, but they allowed their respective campaigns and movements to have a low ‘entry fee’ so that they could become quite mass.

It is important to emphasize that the rise of this New Right took place before the economic decline of the U.S. and the diminishing living standard of the average U.S. working person.  This bears emphasis because there are many on the Left who think of the rise of the New Right as a mass phenomenon as being an expression of the economic anxiety of white working people and middle strata.  As it turns out, it is far more complicated than that, and much of the root of this cancerous growth can be found in an intense fear of competition with what are thought of as illegitimate populations and, as a result, white displacement.  It is also worth noting that the mass base for this new, right-wing populist movement was not mainly a movement of the white poor or even of white working people, but of middle and upper income whites who feared both being squeezed economically and being displaced by the masses of color.

Fighting back

What I would add to what Bob has argued is that the fightback must necessitate the building of the politics of a “new majority.”  This means anti-racist politics, for sure, but more specifically, the building of a popular democratic bloc of forces that unites in fighting for the so-called Third Reconstruction, i.e., a fight for structural reforms in the current system as laying the foundation for moving towards a more fundamental social transformation.

In order to advance in this direction, we must be aware that the ruling circles are divided in several distinct ways.  There are the Neo-Confederate forces (which includes those who advance neo-liberalism; those who are for a white “welfarism”; and the neofascists); Green Capital (mainly in the Democratic Party; those who believe that neo-liberalism is dead and that a new form of accumulation is necessary, one that must address the environmental crisis, and one that may necessitate compromises with the popular classes); and the Democratic Party neo-liberals (those holding on to the Clintonesque approach of politically liberal and socially conservative).  These forces are engaging each other at the moment and the Neo-Confederates, who have gained control of the Republican Party, have now become the party for dictatorship.  This does not mean that they are necessarily fascist, but that they aim to make voter suppression key to their electoral strategy which aims at the building of a neo-apartheid state.

Thus, the “new majority” must be constituted in such a way that it is not seen as a demographic bloc, but a bloc of popular forces and social movements that represents the oppressed.  In this context, the battle for democracy, and specifically, the battle for consistent democracy and against racist and national oppression becomes key in determining the outcome of the turbulence of the current era.

The environmental catastrophe may condemn humanity to extinction, but the success in the rebuilding of a neo-Confederate bloc on the basis of racism, national oppression and male supremacy will guarantee dictatorship.