Immanuel Wallerstein on race, class, gender, and US elections

This video is called Frederick Douglass Abolitionist.

From Commentary No. 232 in the USA, May 1, 2008:

“Race, Gender, and Class in American Politics: Anything New?” –Immanuel Wallerstein

Throughout the world, May 1 is celebrated as May Day – the international workers’ day. The only exception is the United States. The irony is that May Day is celebrated in memory of an American event – the Haymarket Riot in Chicago. On May 1, 1886, in many U.S. cities workers engaged in a general strike in support of an eight-hour day. In Chicago, 80,000 workers marched down Michigan Avenue. On the fourth day of the demonstrations, at the very end of a rally in Haymarket Square, violence broke out. Its origin is contested to this day, but some policemen were killed. Subsequently, leaders of the strike were arrested and four were executed for what was termed murder. Although they were German immigrants to the United States, they died singing not The Star-Spangled Banner but La Marseillaise, an expression of international class solidarity [and a reminder of the 1789 French revolution; the International had not been set to music yet]. Despite this, politicians in the United States have always tried to downplay the importance of class conflict as a defining issue of U.S. politics, which is why the United States does not celebrate May Day.

In 2008, there is a fiercely contested election for the presidency in the United States. There is a primary contest in the Democratic Party between a woman and an African-American. The Republican candidate is a White male. In the beginning, everyone denied that either race or gender was an issue. But as the contest has become prolonged and more fierce, both race and gender as themes have come to the fore. Everyone is still denying that class is an issue.

The intersection between race, gender, and class is an old story in the modern world-system. It has been central to the political history of the United States. In 1848, a year of major political upheaval throughout the world, France was having the first serious social revolution in modern history, and in much of Europe there were nationalist uprisings, which historians have come to call “the springtime of the nations.” In the United States, the most important event was the Seneca Falls Convention, generally regarded as the founding moment of U.S. feminism. Its famous “Declaration of Sentiments” of July 19-20, 1848, echoing the “Declaration of Independence,” begins: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.” Among the grievances listed were the fact that women were deprived of “the first right of a citizen, elective franchise,” a franchise that was given (this complaint foreshadowing future conflicts) to “ignorant and degraded men – both natives and foreigners.”

The leading African-American figure of the period, Frederick Douglass, attended Seneca Falls to offer the support of the African-American community – then still largely slaves – to the cause of women’s rights. Later in 1872, Douglass would be the vice-presidential candidate of the Equal Rights Party, on a ticket headed by Victoria Woodhull. This was the first time either a woman or an African-American would run for these offices.

When, however, after the Civil War, the U.S. Congress adopted the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which made unconstitutional the exclusion from voting of African-American male citizens, the women’s movement was dismayed that they were not included. Wendell Phillips, one of the leaders of the U.S. abolitionist movement, famously told them in May, 1865 that the demands of women’s suffrage should not be pressed at the moment, for “this is the Negro’s hour.” Many women suffragists did not stand by mute. As a response, Elizabeth Stanton and Susan B. Anthony supported the presidential campaign of George Francis Train, a known racist, who however advocated women’s suffrage. The outcome was a profound split in the feminist movement.

As the women’s movement became more conservative on all social/labor issues in the second half of the nineteenth century, so did it on all ethnic/racial issues. In the course of this conservative shift, many feminists abandoned the natural rights argument. They began to argue that women be given the vote “to balance the impact of the foreign born.” In 1903, the main women’s movement came out for an “educational requirement” for the vote (to the notable but lonely dissent of Charlotte Perkins Gilman). At the height of this tension, some suffragists even resorted to crude racism. For example, they issued a poster of a brutish-looking Negro porter sitting next to a refined-looking White lady with a caption that read “He can vote; why can’t I?”

In all this conflict between the victims of inequality (race versus gender), there was virtually no talk of class, although the vast majority of both African-Americans and women were working class, as they still are today. Thus it is that an avowedly conservative Republican candidate, who has throughout his career voted to support the interests of the upper classes and against all legislation that would be in the interests of the working classes (called in the United States the “middle class”), can hope to attract some working-class voters who are not ready to accept the idea that either a woman or an African-American can be the president of the United States.

Is there anything new? Well, yes there is. The very idea that the two possible candidates of the Democratic Party are a woman and an African-American is something that was unthinkable a mere decade ago. The election of one or the other may yet turn out to be unthinkable. But that depends on the degree to which the Democratic Party can organize its campaign around class issues, which are delicately called issues of “the economy.” If it does, it will probably sweep the elections. If it does not, the contest will be close.

Juan Cole on the US Democratic presidential candidates: here.

Women Presidential Candidates – United States: here.

Class in Britain: here.

8 thoughts on “Immanuel Wallerstein on race, class, gender, and US elections

  1. Dear Supporter,

    You may have heard of Rev. John Hagee, the McCain supporter who said God created Hurricane Katrina to punish New Orleans for its homosexual “sins.” Well now meet Rev. Rod Parsley, the televangelist megachurch pastor from Ohio who hates Islam. According to David Corn of Mother Jones, Parsley has called on Christians to wage war against Islam, which he considers to be a “false religion.” In the past, Parsley has also railed against the separation of church and state, homosexuals, and abortion rights, comparing Planned Parenthood to Nazis.

    John McCain actively sought and received Parsley’s endorsement in the presidential race. McCain has called Parsley “a spiritual guide,” and he hasn’t said whether he shares Parsley’s vicious anti-Islam views. That’s because the mainstream media refuses to ask. And so, we’ve taken matters into our own hands, joining Mother Jones to present the truth about McCain’s pastor:

    Watch the video:

    Since the media won’t question McCain about his deeply bigoted pastor, it’s up to you to call attention to this issue. Make McCain’s pastor problem a major story by forwarding this video to your family, friends, and colleagues. Digg it! Anything to spread the word.

    We can’t let McCain get away with aligning himself with a religious leader who’s called for an all-out war on Islam, someone who draws no distinctions between Muslims and violent Islamic extremists. Now is the crucial time to act.

    Robert Greenwald
    and the Brave New Team

    Brave New Films is located at 10510 Culver Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232.


  2. Posted by: “Robert Collins”

    Thu May 8, 2008 10:03 pm (PDT)

    Why I Will Not Vote for John McCain

    By Phillip Butler, PhD
    Cdr, USN (ret.)

    Dear friends:

    As some of you might know, John McCain is a long-time acquaintance of mine that goes way back to our time together at the U.S. Naval Academy and as Prisoners of War in Vietnam. He is a man I respect and admire in some ways. But there are a number of reasons why I will not vote for him for President of the United States.

    When I was a Plebe (4th classman, or freshman) at the Naval Academy in 1957-58, I was assigned to the 17th Company for my four years there. In those days we had about 3,600 midshipmen spread among 24 companies, thus about 150 midshipmen to a company. As fortune would have it, John, a First Classman (senior) and his room mate lived directly across the hall from me and my two room mates. Believe me when I say that back then I would never in a million or more years have dreamed that the crazy guy across the hall would someday be a Senator and candidate for President!

    John was a wild man. He was funny, with a quick wit and he was intelligent. But he was intent on breaking every USNA regulation in our 4 inch thick USNA Regulations book. And I believe he must have come as close to his goal as any midshipman who ever attended the Academy. John had me “coming around” to his room frequently during my plebe year. And on one occasion he took me with him to escape “over the wall” in the dead of night. He had a taxi cab waiting for us that took us to a bar some 7 miles away. John had a few beers, but forbid me to drink (watching out for me I guess) and made me drink cokes. I could tell many other midshipman stories about John that year and he unbelievably managed to graduate though he spent the majority of his first class year on restriction for the stuff he did get caught doing. In fact he barely managed to graduate, standing 5th from the bottom of his 800 man graduating class. I and many others have speculated that the main reason he did graduate was because his father was an Admiral, and also his grandfather, both U.S. Naval Academy graduates.

    People often ask if I was a Prisoner of War with John McCain. My answer is always “No – John McCain was a POW with me.” The reason is I was there for 8 years and John got there 2 ½ years later, so he was a POW for 5 ½ years. And we have our own seniority system, based on time as a POW.

    John’s treatment as a POW:

    1) Was he tortured for 5 years? No. He was subjected to torture and maltreatment during his first 2 years, from September of 1967 to September of 1969. After September of 1969 the Vietnamese stopped the torture and gave us increased food and rudimentary health care. Several hundred of us were captured much earlier. I got there April 20, 1965 so my bad treatment period lasted 4 1/2 years. President Ho Chi Minh died on September 9, 1969, and the new regime that replaced him and his policies was more pragmatic. They realized we were worth a lot as bargaining chips if we were alive. And they were right because eventually Americans gave up on the war and agreed to trade our POW’s for their country. A damn good trade in my opinion! But my point here is that John allows the media to make him out to be THE hero POW, which he knows is absolutely not true, to further his political goals.

    2) John was badly injured when he was shot down. Both arms were broken and he had other wounds from his ejection. Unfortunately this was often the case – new POW’s arriving with broken bones and serious combat injuries. Many died from their wounds. Medical care was non-existent to rudimentary. Relief from pain was almost never given and often the wounds were used as an available way to torture the POW. Because John’s father was the Naval Commander in the Pacific theater, he was exploited with TV interviews while wounded. These film clips have now been widely seen. But it must be known that many POW’s suffered similarly, not just John. And many were similarly exploited for political propaganda.

    3) John was offered, and refused, “early release.” Many of us were given this offer. It meant speaking out against your country and lying about your treatment to the press. You had to “admit” that the U.S. was criminal and that our treatment was “lenient and humane.” So I, like numerous others, refused the offer. This was obviously something none of us could accept. Besides, we were bound by our service regulations, Geneva Conventions and loyalties to refuse early release until all the POW’s were released, with the sick and wounded going first.

    4) John was awarded a Silver Star and Purple Heart for heroism and wounds in combat. This heroism has been played up in the press and in his various political campaigns. But it should be known that there were approximately 600 military POW’s in Vietnam. Among all of us, decorations awarded have recently been totaled to the following: Medals of Honor – 8, Service Crosses – 42, Silver Stars – 590, Bronze Stars – 958 and Purple Hearts – 1,249. John certainly performed courageously and well. But it must be remembered that he was one hero among many – not uniquely so as his campaigns would have people believe.

    John McCain served his time as a POW with great courage, loyalty and tenacity. More that 600 of us did the same. After our repatriation a census showed that 95% of us had been tortured at least once. The Vietnamese were quite democratic about it. There were many heroes in North Vietnam. I saw heroism every day there. And we motivated each other to endure and succeed far beyond what any of us thought we had in ourselves. Succeeding as a POW is a group sport, not an individual one. We all supported and encouraged each other to survive and succeed. John knows that. He was not an individual POW hero. He was a POW who surmounted the odds with the help of many comrades, as all of us did.

    I furthermore believe that having been a POW is no special qualification for being President of the United States. The two jobs are not the same, and POW experience is not, in my opinion, something I would look for in a presidential candidate.

    Most of us who survived that experience are now in our late 60’s and 70’s. Sadly, we have died and are dying off at a greater rate than our non-POW contemporaries. We experienced injuries and malnutrition that are coming home to roost. So I believe John’s age (73) and survival expectation are not good for being elected to serve as our President for 4 or more years.

    I can verify that John has an infamous reputation for being a hot head. He has a quick and explosive temper that many have experienced first hand. Folks, quite honestly that is not the finger I want next to that red button.

    It is also disappointing to see him take on and support Bush’s war in Iraq, even stating we might be there for another 100 years. For me John represents the entrenched and bankrupt policies of Washington-as-usual. The past 7 years have proven to be disastrous for our country. And I believe John’s views on war, foreign policy, economics, environment, health care, education, national infrastructure and other important areas are much the same as those of the Bush administration.

    I’m disappointed to see John represent himself politically in ways that are not accurate. He is not a moderate Republican. On some issues he is a maverick. But his voting record is far to the right. I fear for his nominations to our Supreme Court, and the consequent continuing loss of individual freedoms, especially regarding moral and religious issues. John is not a religious person, but he has taken every opportunity to ally himself with some really obnoxious and crazy fundamentalist ministers lately. I was also disappointed to see him cozy up to Bush because I know he hates that man. He disingenuously and famously put his arm around the guy, even after Bush had intensely disrespected him with lies and slander. So on these and many other instances, I don’t see that John is the “straight talk express” he markets himself to be.

    Senator John Sidney McCain, III is a remarkable man who has made enormous personal achievements. And he is a man that I am proud to call a fellow POW who “Returned With Honor.” That’s our POW motto. But since many of you keep asking what I think of him, I’ve decided to write it out. In short, I think John Sidney McCain, III is a good man, but not someone I will vote for in the upcoming election to be our President of the United States.



  3. New War Danger: Obama Needs to ‘Stiffen’ and ‘Fight Back’ -Tom Hayden
    It’s About War and Peace,
    Not Simply Race and Gender

    By Tom Hayden
    Huffington Post

    May 20, 2008 – The decisive issue in this election is about war and
    peace, between Barack Obama’s proposed diplomacy with Iran to end the
    war in Iraq, and the hawkish stance of his two rivals, Hillary Clinton
    and John McCain, who favor an escalating the tensions with Tehran even
    to the point of war.

    The mainstream media, and some of the blogosphere, continue to miss
    the danger of an escalated war as they blog and dabble over race,
    gender and numbers of pledged delegates.

    The antiwar movement and most Democrats have been fairly silent about
    these differences as well.

    The facts, however, are simple, as follows:

    The Bush administration, many neo-conservatives, and Israeli officials
    have busily built the case that Iran is an “existential threat,” and
    that the coming months represent a “now or never” moment to attack
    Iran before a new president takes office.

    With sufficient US political and military backing, the Israelis seem
    set to go.

    Clinton has voted to identify Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a
    “terrorist organization.” The White House and Gen. Petraeus have
    asserted that Iran is directly and indirectly responsible for killing
    American soldiers in Iraq. Those two elements are a sufficient cause
    to go to war.

    Clinton has said the US could “obliterate” Iran if they attacked
    Israel, and threatens “massive retaliation” to protect Saudi Arabia
    and the United Arab Emirates against Iran. There has been virtually no
    media discussion of this NATO-like proposal for the Middle East.

    Both Clinton and McCain deride Obama’s offer to open unconditional
    talks with Iran. Obama himself appears to be adjusting, or backing
    away, from his original straightforward proposal. He needs to stiffen,
    realize this is what the election is about, and fight back, with
    allies at his side.

    Instead of stumbling over the nature of direct diplomacy [with whom,
    where, with what preparations], Obama should rely on his strongest

    The bipartisan Baker-Hamilton Study Group proposed US-Iran
    negotiations as essential to finding a political solution in Iraq.
    Former CIA chief John Deutch says the same thing. Iraq needs a
    non-aggression agreement and trade with the US; in return, the US
    needs Iran’s acceptance of an orderly withdrawal from Iraq without the
    country falling into greater civil war. The issue of nuclear power
    needs to be negotiated on a separate track, according to Baker-Hamilton.

    Barack should not seem to over-promise the results of diplomacy, which
    could provoke more attacks on his resolve and experience. But he can
    easily remain assertive against the failed and obviously hypocritical
    notion of never talking to our adversaries.

    It’s more simple than he says.

    John Kennedy talked with Nikita Khrushchev, and nuclear war was averted.

    Richard Nixon talked with Mao tse-Tung, and commercial competition
    replaced a military confrontation.

    Look where non-talking gets us. We refuse to talk to Cuba, leaving us
    diplomatically and commercially isolated from the continent and world.

    As for rank hypocrisy, the Bush administration is already talking with
    North Korea and, in a limited way, with Iran.

    The possibility of avoiding a broader war may rest on whether Obama
    wins this debate.

    Sign on to ‘Progressives for Obama’
    Go to:


  4. The Political Scene
    The Fall of Conservatism
    Have the Republicans run out of ideas?

    by George Packer
    May 26, 2008

    The era of American politics that has been dying before our eyes was born in 1966. That January, a twenty-seven-year-old editorial writer for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat named Patrick Buchanan went to work for Richard Nixon, who was just beginning the most improbable political comeback in American history. Having served as Vice-President in the Eisenhower Administration, Nixon had lost the Presidency by a whisker to John F. Kennedy, in 1960, and had been humiliated in a 1962 bid for the California governorship. But he saw that he could propel himself back to power on the strength of a new feeling among Americans who, appalled by the chaos of the cities, the moral heedlessness of the young, and the insults to national pride in Vietnam, were ready to blame it all on the liberalism of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Right-wing populism was bubbling up from below; it needed to be guided by a leader who understood its resentments because he felt them, too.

    “From Day One, Nixon and I talked about creating a new majority,” Buchanan told me recently, sitting in the library of his Greek-revival house in McLean, Virginia, on a secluded lane bordering the fenced grounds of the Central Intelligence Agency. “What we talked about, basically, was shearing off huge segments of F.D.R.’s New Deal coalition, which L.B.J. had held together: Northern Catholic ethnics and Southern Protestant conservatives—what we called the Daley-Rizzo Democrats in the North and, frankly, the Wallace Democrats in the South.” Buchanan grew up in Washington, D.C., among the first group—men like his father, an accountant and a father of nine, who had supported Roosevelt but also revered Joseph McCarthy. The Southerners were the kind of men whom Nixon whipped into a frenzy one night in the fall of 1966, at the Wade Hampton Hotel, in Columbia, South Carolina. Nixon, who was then a partner in a New York law firm, had travelled there with Buchanan on behalf of Republican congressional candidates. Buchanan recalls that the room was full of sweat, cigar smoke, and rage; the rhetoric, which was about patriotism and law and order, “burned the paint off the walls.” As they left the hotel, Nixon said, “This is the future of this Party, right here in the South.”

    Nixon and Buchanan visited thirty-five states that fall, and in November the Republicans won a midterm landslide. It was the end of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the beginning of his fall from power. In order to seize the Presidency in 1968, Nixon had to live down his history of nasty politicking, and he ran that year as a uniter. But his Administration adopted an undercover strategy for building a Republican majority, working to create the impression that there were two Americas: the quiet, ordinary, patriotic, religious, law-abiding Many, and the noisy, élitist, amoral, disorderly, condescending Few.

    This strategy was put into action near the end of Nixon’s first year in office, when antiwar demonstrators were becoming a disruptive presence in Washington. Buchanan recalls urging Nixon, “We’ve got to use the siege gun of the Presidency, and go right after these guys.” On November 3, 1969, Nixon went on national television to speak about the need to avoid a shameful defeat in Vietnam. Looking benignly into the camera, he concluded, “And so tonight—to you, the great silent majority of Americans—I ask for your support.” It was the most successful speech of his Presidency. Newscasters criticized him for being divisive and for offering no new vision on Vietnam, but tens of thousands of telegrams and letters expressing approval poured into the White House. It was Nixon’s particular political genius to rouse simultaneously the contempt of the bien-pensants and the admiration of those who felt the sting of that contempt in their own lives.

    Buchanan urged Nixon to enlist his Vice-President, Spiro Agnew, in a battle against the press. In November, Nixon sent Agnew—despised as dull-witted by the media—on the road, where he denounced “this small and unelected élite” of editors, anchormen, and analysts. Buchanan recalls watching a broadcast of one such speech—which he had written for Agnew—on a television in his White House office. Joining him was his colleague Kevin Phillips, who had just published “The Emerging Republican Majority,” which marshalled electoral data to support a prophecy that Sun Belt conservatism—like Jacksonian Democracy, Republican industrialism, and New Deal liberalism—would dominate American politics for the next thirty-two or thirty-six years. (As it turns out, Phillips was slightly too modest.) When Agnew finished his diatribe, Phillips said two words: “Positive polarization.”

    Polarization is the theme of Rick Perlstein’s new narrative history “Nixonland” (Scribners), which covers the years between two electoral landslides: Barry Goldwater’s defeat in 1964 and George McGovern’s in 1972. During that time, Nixon figured out that he could succeed politically “by using the angers, anxieties, and resentments produced by the cultural chaos of the 1960s,” which were also his own. In Perlstein’s terms, America in the sixties was divided, like the Sneetches on Dr. Seuss’s beaches, into two social clubs: the Franklins, who were the in-crowd at Nixon’s alma mater, Whittier College; and the Orthogonians, a rival group founded by Nixon after the Franklins rejected him, made up of “the strivers, those not to the manor born, the commuter students like him. He persuaded his fellows that reveling in one’s unpolish was a nobility of its own.” Orthogonians deeply resented Franklins, which, as Perlstein sees it, explains just about everything that happened between 1964 and 1972: Nixon resented the Kennedys and clawed his way back to power; construction workers resented John Lindsay and voted conservative; National Guardsmen resented student protesters and opened fire on them. Perlstein sustains these categories throughout the book, without quite noticing that his scheme breaks down under the pressure of his central historical insight—”America was engulfed in a pitched battle between the forces of darkness and the forces of light. The only thing was: Americans disagreed radically over which side was which.” In other words, by 1972 there were hardly any Franklins left—only former Franklins who had thrown off their dinner jackets, picked up a weapon, and joined the brawl. The sixties, which began in liberal consensus over the Cold War and civil rights, became a struggle between two apocalyptic politics that each saw the other as hellbent on the country’s annihilation. The result was violence like nothing the country had seen since the Civil War, and Perlstein emphasizes that bombings, assaults, and murders committed by segregationists, hardhats, and vigilantes on the right were at least as numerous as those by radical students and black militants on the left. Nixon claimed to speak on behalf of “the nonshouters, the nondemonstrators,” but the cigar smokers in that South Carolina hotel were intoxicated with hate.


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