Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 28, 2020

Class-reductionism’s blind-spot: environmental racism

Filed under: african-american,Counterpunch,Ecology,racism — louisproyect @ 2:06 pm

Screen Shot 2020-08-28 at 10.08.17 AM

Image by Wake Forest University with caption “The fight for environmental justice is a fight for your life.”


On August 14th, the N.Y. Times reported on the clash between Adolph Reed Jr. and the Afrosocialists and Socialists of Color Caucus in DSA over an event scheduled back in May by the LES and Philadelphia branches. The caucus advocates stepped up support for BLM protests while Reed views them as tools of corporate America. Naturally, when the event organizers scheduled a Zoom lecture for Reed, the caucus demanded a debate, surely expecting to be ignored. When Reed grew wary over the possibility that the upstarts might crash his talk, he canceled himself.

The Times article summarized the Reed position as shared by a class of historians, political scientists and intellectuals who argue against overstating race as a construct. Even if they accept the existence of racism in the U.S., they reject the need for an anti-racist movement. Instead, the goal is to create class unity around programs like Medicare for All since poor whites would benefit as well. When you “fixate” on race, you risk dividing a potentially powerful coalition and play into conservatives’ hands.

Of course, this vulgar Marxism seems even more outlandish than ever in the face of the massive resistance to the status quo now underway. After the George Floyd murder, anti-racist protests became the largest in American history. Without skipping a beat, the NBA has gone on strike to protest the cops who left Jacob Blake permanently paralyzed. To counterpose Medicare for All to these struggles is foolish, if not outright reactionary.

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  1. […] Class-reductionism’s blind-spot: environmental racism […]

    Pingback by Class-reductionism’s blind-spot: environmental racism – atthecenters/attheedges — August 28, 2020 @ 2:53 pm

  2. what about the upper class blacks who voted for Trump and Repubs? they live where? trying to articulate race with class is not economic determinism. it’s a corrective to special interest, racism is everywhere reductionism….

    Comment by John O'Kane — August 28, 2020 @ 3:30 pm

  3. “what about the upper class blacks who voted for Trump and Repubs?” What an amateurish red herring!

    What about working class *whites* who vote for Republicans, starting with Reagan, and now vote for Trump? Obviously class is not a calculation for them. Race is, though.

    Comment by Reza — August 28, 2020 @ 6:01 pm

  4. At the risk of being of being declared a mindless puppet of Louis Proyect, let me say that this is an excellent essay. Both Louis and I have been writing on this subject for a long time. Every leftist should be on board with this. Reed and company notwithstanding.

    Comment by Michael D Yates — August 28, 2020 @ 6:57 pm

  5. When I was an undergrad I worked for UPS weekday nights part-time. The security guards at the exit gate were a little disproportionately overzealous with those of us who were Black. The searches were too intense. It was clear they were accusing us of stealing parcel merchandise without outright saying it. We decided to resist in our own way and stopped cooperating in the search all together, just walking through the metal detector and going straight to our car without stopping. It got ugly, management was notified and started pulling us into the offices during our shift without the presence of a shop steward. Our demand was simple: “Hey Rent-A-Cop, leave us Black Folks Alone!” I can only imagine what it would have been like had there been some class reductionist present. They would have called us divisive and countered our demand with “Reduced Co-pay on medical insurance plans for ALL TEAMSTERS!” These people act as if Marx only supported the struggle for reduced surplus for capital and more wages for workers or only supported complete expropriation. He also supported the working class struggle for basic DIGNITY and said as much!

    Comment by New Afrikan Socialist — August 29, 2020 @ 9:33 am

  6. A couple of sources that complement Louis’s article.

    From an Aug 11, 2020, report from the Insider:

    ‘2018 study conducted by the EPA showed that at the national, state, and county levels, non-white Americans are disproportionately burdened by particulate matter — or air pollution consisting of automobile fumes, smog, soot, oil smoke, ash, and construction dust — than white people.” (https://www.insider.com/environmental-racism-examples-united-states-2020-8#cancer-alley-louisiana-1)

    The report has a lot of links to other reports and studies regarding environmental racism in the U.S., including a link to an Apr 9, 2020, Insider report about “Cancer Alley”: “The location got its sinister name “Cancer Alley” because residents of the area are 50 times more likely to develop cancer than the average American — and those who live there are predominantly Black.” (https://www.businessinsider.com/louisiana-cancer-alley-photos-oil-refineries-chemicals-pollution-2019-11)

    That second-linked report is actually a compilation of reports by The Intercept, The Rolling Stone, NPR, The Nation, Washington Post, The Guardian, etc.

    Comment by Reza — August 29, 2020 @ 4:14 pm

  7. I love this critique of class reductionism. It is important to note that one sees it not just with U.S. racism, but also in analyses of global capitalism which completely elide the intricate implications of Colonialism in capitalism as a system and the facts that accumulation flowed not just from class exploitation internally but also from external colonies. Hence we must talk about colonial capitalism and racial capitalism. The two types of flows (with significant political and economic differences, but mutually constituted) are inseparably endemic to capitalism. The only thing that makes me wary here is the author’s idea that only revolution, as a single sweep, can be entertained, and that starting somewhere concrete, say against segregated housing or against environmental racism, is futile. How is this all or nothing approach, this single-dimensional approach, different from the single dimensionality of class or economic reductionism? Or am I misunderstanding the point that is being made?

    Comment by C. Green — August 30, 2020 @ 4:54 pm

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