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An Empire of Poverty: Race, Punishment, and Social Control


An Empire of Poverty: Race, Punishment, and Social Control

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

NOTE: The following is a brief sampling of some of the concepts, ideas, issues, and events that are to be thoroughly researched and written about in two chapters of The People’s Book Project which will be funded through The People’s Grant, of which the objective is to raise $1,600 from readers and supporters. If you find the information in the following sampling of interest, please donate to the People’s Book Project and help facilitate expanded research on these and other related subjects into constructing two significant chapters for the book. For a look at what other information will be included in these chapters, see the latest information on The People’s Grant.

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Slavery and the Social Construction of Race

Between 1619 and 1860, the American legal system, from that imposed by the British Empire to that constructed following the American Revolution, “expanded and protected the liberties of white Americans – while at the same time the legal process became increasingly more harsh as to the masses of blacks, with a steady contraction of their liberties.” This process marked the ‘social construction’ of race and with it, racial superiority and inferiority, delegated to whites and blacks, respectively.[1] Interesting to note was that between 1619 and the 1660s, the American colonial legal system was “far more supportive for blacks; or, phrased differently, the early legal process was less harsh.” Georgia’s original charter, in fact, had three prohibitions: no alcohol, no free land titles, “and no Negro slaves.” In Virginia, as late as 1672 and 1673, there were legal records of some slaves “serving limited terms as indentured servants rather than being sentenced to the eternity of slavery.”[2]

The colonies in the Americas required a massive labour force, “Between 1607 and 1783, more than 350,000 ‘white’ bond-labourers arrived in the British colonies.”[3] The Americas had both un-free blacks and whites, with blacks being a minority, yet they “exercised basic rights in law.”[4] Problems arrived in the form of elites trying to control the labour class. Slaves were made up of Indian, black and white labourers; yet, problems arose with this “mixed” population of un-free labour. The problem with Indian labourers was that they knew the land and could escape to “undiscovered” territory, and enslavement would often instigate rebellions and war:

The social costs of trying to discipline un-free native labour had proved too high. Natives would eventually be genocidally eliminated, once population settlement and military power made victory more or less certain; for the time being, however, different sources of bond labour had to be found.[5]

Between 1607 and 1682, more than 90,000 European immigrants, “three-quarters of them chattel bond-labourers, were brought to Virginia and Maryland.” Following the “establishment of the Royal African Company in 1672, a steady supply of African slaves was secured.” Problems became paramount, however, as the lower classes tended to be very rebellious, which consisted of “an amalgam of indentured servants and slaves, of poor whites and blacks, of landless freemen and debtors.” The lower classes were united in opposition to the elites oppressing them, regardless of background.[6]

Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676 was of particular note, as bond-labourers, black and white, rebelled against the local elites and “demanded freedom from chattel servitude.” For the colonialists, “[s]uch images of a joint uprising of black and white, slave and bondsman, proved traumatic. In the face of a united rebellion of the lower orders, the planter bourgeoisie understood that their entire system of colonial exploitation and privilege was at risk.”[7]

In response to this threat, the landed elite “relaxed the servitude of white labourers, intensified the bonds of black slavery, and introduced a new regime of racial oppression. In doing so, they effectively created the white race – and with it white supremacy.”[8] Thus, “the conditions of white and black servants began to diverge considerably after 1660.” Following this, legislation would separate white and black slavery, prevent “mixed” marriages, and seek to prevent the procreation of “mixed-race” children. Whereas before 1660, many black slaves were not indentured for life, this changed as colonial law increasingly “imposed lifetime bondage for black servants – and, especially significant, the curse of lifetime servitude for their offspring.”[9]

A central feature of the social construction of this racial divide was “the denial of the right to vote,” as most Anglo-American colonies previously allowed free blacks to vote, but this slowly changed throughout the colonies. The ruling class of America was essentially “inventing race.” Thus, “[f]reedom was increasingly identified with race, not class.”[10]

The ‘Reconstruction’ of Slavery in Post-Civil War America

Important to note has been the ways in which slaves were used as the main labour force, and thus blacks were identified and being sustained as a lower-class labour force. Following the Civil War, abolition of slavery and the Reconstruction Period, there were coordinated moves – a ‘compact’ – between the North and South in the United States, to devise a way of keeping blacks as a submissive labour force, and one which was confined to a new form of slavery: penal slavery. Thus, we see emerging in the 1870s and into the 20th century, a rapid expansion of prisons, and with that, of southern penal systems using prisoners as forced labour. This new legal system, which was “far less rigid than slavery,” had been referred to as “involuntary servitude,” and, wrote one scholar, “was a fluid, flexible affair which alternated between free and forced labor in time to the rhythm of the southern labor market.”[11]

A famous American botanist and agricultural editor of the Weekly News and Courier wrote in 1865 that, “There must… be stringent laws to control the negroes, & require them to fulfill their contracts of labour on the farms.” Southern legislatures, then, began to enact what were referred to as Black Codes, “designed to preserve white hegemony.”[12] The 12-year period following the end of the Civil War, known as the ‘Reconstruction,’ saw the continued struggle of newly-freed blacks to attempt to break free from being “forced back under the political and economic domination of the large landowners,” and to do so, they were demanding land ownership rights to the tune of “40 acres and a mule.” This was, of course, unacceptable to vested interests. While the Republic Party had freed the slaves, the main core of the Party had become dominated by Northern wealthy interests, and “were unwilling to press for thoroughgoing reform, and by 1877 had become convinced that their interests were better served by an alliance with Southern white conservatives than the largely illiterate and destitute ex-slave population.” In the North at this time, the captains of industry and kings of capital (the bankers and industrialists) were waging a continued war against organized and increasingly radicalized labour. Thus, there was very little interest in seeking to enfranchise black labour in the South. As the New York Times suggested, the demands for “40 acres and a mule” hit at “the fundamental relation of industry to capital,” and “strikes at the root of all property rights in both sections. It concerns Massachusetts quite as much as Mississippi.”[13]

The legal system was used to essentially criminalize black life, without making specific references to race, laws that were passed specifically targeted blacks in attempting to limit their mobility, the price of their labour, and to make several aspects of typical black southern life to be deemed “criminal.” This process was paralleled in South Africa in the construction of the apartheid system. As one historian wrote:

Prior to the 1860s, neither the South nor South Africa had an extensive history of large-scale imprisonment or of hiring out prison labour to private contractors. Before the Civil War, slave-owners had punished their own slaves. African Americans accounted for less than 1 per cent of Alabama’s pre-war prison population; the bulk of the 200-300 inmates of the first penitentiary built in 1841 comprised, as in northern prisons, mostly of newly-arrived European immigrants.[14]

Many of the South’s prisons were destroyed during the Civil War, and thus, as the Black Codes were subsequently enacted, legislation was increasingly passed which aimed to facilitate the leasing of convicts to private contractors, and as a result, there was little need to rebuild the prison infrastructure; instead, have prisoners build the new infrastructure of an industrializing South, with the convict population from the 1870s onward largely being leased to farmers and railroad contractors, which saved state revenues from building new prisons as well as procuring revenue. In 1874, the governor of Alabama had complained about spending $100,000 on convicts, and within two years of leasing out Alabama’s inmates to private contractors, he boasted of a $15,000 profit. Thus, prisons would never “be anything but a source of immense revenue to the state.” Largely the same process was undertaken in South Africa to secure labour for the diamond mines run by the De Beers Company.[15] As William Worger wrote of the dual development of the American South and South African convict labour systems:

[C]apitalists in both areas establishing new industries and constrained by expensive capital, high fixed costs for plant and operations, and competitive struggles for market share, viewed convict labour as essential to the introduction of machine production, the defeat of organized labour, and the overall cheapening of the costs of production… [I]n both cases the state, when viewed in its local and regional rather than national and metropolitan manifestations, enthusiastically supported the leasing of convicts to private employers… because of the enormous financial benefits to their administrations of selling prison labour… and because imprisonment with hard labour in industrial enterprises offered a means to ‘discipline’ (in the discourse of the South) and to ‘civilise’ (in that of British colonialism) African Americans and Africans convicted on the basis of their race for acts – such as petty theft and burglary… that would not have resulted in lengthy terms of incarceration for whites… [In both cases] convict labour was used to divide and defeat organized labour and to enable employers to segregate the workplace on the basis of race.[16]

Migration, Housing, and Organizing Ghettos

It was no coincidence that each of these convict labour systems emerged in the context and circumstances of the development of Jim Crow segregation laws in the South and official apartheid in South Africa. At the same time as this was taking place in the South, massive migration of blacks from the South to the North began, concurrently with a period of radical labour militancy and class crisis. As such, this era saw the development of the ghettoes in major Northern cities “as a space of containment in urban areas.” The harsh legal racism, segregation, and cultural hatred of blacks in the South also spurred the migration to Northern cities. Between 1882 and 1968, there were 4,723 reported lynchings of African Americans, 90% of which took place in the Deep South. Between 1910 and 1960, roughly 5 million African Americans migrated to the North, Midwest, and Northeast. As Eduardo Mendieta wrote:

It is significant that the process of northern urbanization takes place in tandem with the process of racial gentrification. This racial gentrification is overseen by the state itself through its housing policies. These policies ensure that the poor and colored are concentrated in the dilapidated and poorly serviced urban centers while wealthy whites… are granted the license and funding to flee to the suburbs. In other words, the development of the ghetto has to be seen in tandem with the suburbanization of the US… An overview of the different agencies and acts used by Congress to regulate housing policies and availability reveals that the government conspired to segregate through its loaning practices, and actually participated in the very act of destroying housing that was and could have been available to African Americans and poor people in the inner cities.[17]

In fact, amazingly, “the government [had] destroyed more low-incoming housing than it actually built.” This process had extended right into the post-World War II period. Between 1960 and 1977, “as the number of whites living in suburbs increased by 22 million… the inner-city African-American population grew by 6 million.” Kenneth T. Jackson wrote, “American housing policy was not only devoid of social objectives, but instead helped establish the basis for social inequities. Uncle Sam was not impartial, but instead contributed to the general disbenefit of the cities and to the general prosperity of the suburbs.”[18]

Most American ghettos first came into existence just as economic inequalities were reaching “new heights” in the 1920s in the midst of the long-worn battle between industrialists and organized labour. At this time, racial segregation was increasingly a global phenomenon, when imperial and national states were implementing social and geographical forms of segregation “by equating urban problems such as ‘vice’, crime, disease and social unrest with blacks and other people of color and suggesting urban division as a means to solve these problems.” As Carl H. Nightingale wrote in the Journal of Urban History:

In the United States, this global “racial urbanism” informed the actions of the white homeowners, realtors, and banks that transformed an urban landscape marked by scattered minority-black enclaves into one of the large-scale segregated majority-black communities we know as ghettos. These first ghettos were also marked by the founding of separate black-run institutions that served their residents.[19]

The second phase of ghettoization in the United States occurred with the Great Depression, New Deal, and World War II-era, a time in which there was a continued growth of northward migration of black Americans to the industrial cities. In this context, the New Deal’s Home Owner’s Loan Corporation and the Federal Housing Administration “instituted highly discriminatory housing policies… [which] were aggravated by similarly racially biased urban renewal, public housing, and transportation policies, which not only solidified the boundaries of ghettos but also pushed them outward from downtown.”[20]

The third major phase of ghetto reform came about as a result of the Civil Rights Movement. Working with a major Civil Rights organization, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Ford Foundation sought to “organize the ghetto” through a program aimed at “making working-class blacks a decipherable and controllable constituency,” and thus:

[The Ford] foundation sought black leaders who could be brought into the establishment fold and could engineer orderly change in the ghetto. Having found a model to control the black community by containing it… the Ford Foundation would use its experience with CORE in Cleveland as a base to complete its vision for African Americans in a post-civil rights America.[21]

A national housing program, organized around new public-private partnerships which would benefit the elite class, was developed to create housing for the poor. The development of this plan – the Rockefeller Program – was the most controversial of the initiatives under the 1968 housing legislation, which placed “little emphasis on expanding homeownership opportunities,” and instead, stressed “the importance of involving private enterprises in the rebuilding of cities and make use of tax incentives to encourage such involvement.” The interesting features of the Rockefeller Program, implemented under New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, were that it contemplated “that government will sponsor, develop, construct, and possibly manage the housing project,” and while the “actual construction work will be done by private firms as contractors… it is government which is to rebuild the slums.” Thus, the “incentives to enlist the active involvement of the private sector are not directly related to the task of rebuilding the slums, except insofar as they enable private enterprise to participate in the profits which will accrue.”[22]

The Rockefeller Foundation itself had a significant impact upon the changing focus of urban design. As Peter L. Laurence wrote, “between 1955 and 1965, the Rockefeller Foundation research programme for Urban Design Studies contributed significantly to post-war urban theory and to the emergence of the new discipline of urban design out of the overlapping interests of the fields of architecture, city planning and landscape design.”[23] Rockefeller influence on city planning was thereafter established and institutionalized through the formation of the fields of urban studies and city planning.

Educating Africans to be “Junior Partners in the Firm”

In the first half of the 20th century, the Rockefeller Foundation and Carnegie Corporation undertook joint projects aimed at constructing an education system for black Americans in the South as well as for black Africans in several British colonies. In 1911, the Phelps-Stokes Fund was chartered with the purpose of managing “the education of Negroes both in Africa and the United States.” This restrictive educational system for black Americans had already been institutionalized, beginning with the ‘philanthropic’ endeavours of Wall Street bankers and northern industrialists and capitalists at several conferences in 1898. The education was constructed on the basis that, as one conference participant stated, “the white people are to be the leaders, to take the initiative, to have direct control in all matters pertaining to civilization and the highest interest of our beloved land. History demonstrates that the Caucasian will rule, and he ought to rule.” As one conference organizer stated:

Time has proven that [the ‘negro’] is best fitted to perform the heavy labor in the Southern states… He will willingly fill the more menial positions, and do the heavy work, at less wages, than the American white man or any foreign race… This will permit the Southern white laborer to perform the more expert labor, and to leave the fields, the mines, and the simple trades for the negro.[24]

The conferences resulted in what became known as the ‘Tuskegee educational philosophy,’ which was decided upon by 1901. Three major decisions were taken at the conferences. The first major decision was that “it was necessary that provision be made to train a Negro leadership cadre”:

For this purpose, then, it was concluded that certain Negro colleges would be strengthened to educate a strong professional class – doctors, lawyers, ministers – which would be responsible for raising the general physical and moral level of the race in the segregated black communities… [Second], it was decided that the Negro had been educated away from his natural environment and that his education should concern only those fields available to him. This key decision marked the formulation of the concept of a special Negro education. Third, it was decided that this special education – vocational and agricultural in focus – of the Negro had to be directed toward increasing the labor value of his race, a labor value which, not surprisingly, would see the white capitalist as chief beneficiary.[25]

Thus, in 1901 the fourth conference on the issue established the Southern Education Board. The following year, John D. Rockefeller established the General Education Board (a precursor to the Rockefeller Foundation), which “alleviated any financial concerns which the planners of southern Negro education might have experienced.”[26] The Rockefeller philanthropy had extensive influence on implementing the ‘Tuskegee educational philosophy,’ particularly through the Southern Education Board, of which it not only helped finance, but had a shared leadership. Eleven members of the Southern Education Board were also members of Rockefeller’s General Education Board. With time, other funds and philanthropies became involved, such as the Jeanes Fund, the Slater Fund, and eventually the Phelps-Stokes Fund. Again, there was significant overlap between these organizations. The first president of the Jeanes Fund was James H. Dillard, a member of the Southern Education Board, an agent of the Slater Fund, and a member of Rockefeller’s General Education Board. In 1923, Dillard became a trustee of the Phelps-Stokes Fund. The Jeanes Fund, headed by Dillard, instituted the concept of the ‘Jeanes teacher’:

a local Negro who could make contact in the rural communities as no one else could and who could adapt the school curriculum to the conditions of these communities. Hygiene, home economics, and industrial and agricultural training were to form the backbone of the curriculum for Jeanes rural schools. In 1925, the Jeanes school concept was transferred to Kenya, largely owing to the vigorous advocacy for such a transplantation by representatives of the Phelps-Stokes Fund.[27]

The Tuskegee/Phelps-Stokes educational philosophy quickly garnered the attention of British missionary educators in Africa. Two influential British missionary educators visited the Tuskegee Institute in 1912, with the idea in mind that they could adapt this educational philosophy to Britain’s colonies in Africa. One of these missionaries was J.H. Oldham, former secretary of the World Missionary Conference, and editor of the International Review of Missions, “the quasi-official journal of the Protestant missionary societies in Great Britain from its inception in 1912.” Having become well-acquainted with the American philanthropists involved in organization black education, Oldham introduced Thomas Jesse Jones to British colonial officials in charge of educational policy in Africa, and in 1924, “Oldham became the Phelps-Stokes Fund’s representative in the United Kingdom and intensified his vigorous lobbying efforts to have Phelps-Stokes Fund/Tuskegee concept incorporated into official mission and colonial educational policy.”[28]

As Kenya’s colonial secretary stated, the educational philosophy would ensure “an intelligent, cheerful, self-respecting, and generally docile and willing-to-learn African native.” In 1925, Jones successfully negotiated for financial aid from the Carnegie Corporation to finance the establishment of a Jeanes training school in Kenya. The funding from Carnegie included direct funding for the school, as well as facilitating white educators from Africa to come to the U.S. to “investigate” the Southern educational system, as well as implementing intelligence tests for Africans (just as the major philanthropies had been propagating around the United States as part of their support for eugenics programs). Jones also turned to other major foundations for support, such as Rockefeller’s International Education Board (which had Anson Phelps-Stokes as a trustee), as well as the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Memorial, which all subsequently provided major grants to establish several schools across Africa.[29]

Jones and the major foundations further supported the development of black education in South Africa, helping cement the apartheid system that was being developed. As Jones himself stated, the education of black South Africans in the Tuskegee philosophy can maintain their subordination to the white ruling class, and keep them as “junior partners in the firm.”[30]

Managing the Poor through Social Welfare

Another major area of concern in these chapters is on the ‘moral construction’ of the poor, going beyond (but not ignoring) the ways in which the poor are ‘created’ and ‘maintained’ as a social group (i.e., noting the political, economic, and social policies and institutions that create and sustain poverty as a powerful social force), but also in looking at how the poor are, as a group, “regulated” and how society “morally constructs” views and perceptions of the poor, so that they are vilified, demonized, and politicized as “deviants.”

The origins of ‘welfare policies’ and other forms of ‘social welfare’ emerged several hundred years ago as a response to the inability of the economic system to benefit the masses of society, and thus, to prevent – often in the midst of an economic crisis – mass social unrest, rebellion, or potentially, revolution, social welfare policies were implemented as a means of social control: to alleviate some of the tensions from the gross systemic inequalities, and secondly, and often overlooked, as a means of regulating the behaviour, “work ethic” and prospects of the poor; to maintain them as a cheap labour force. This is done through the methods in which social welfare is provided: the process of applying for social services and welfare, the conditions required to be applicable, the demands which must be met by the applicant as determined by the state, the state intervention in the family and personal life of recipients (often through social workers), and other means of both expanding and detracting the amount of people on welfare as a means to sustain the labour force according to the demands of industry. As such, it is important to analyze the origins of “social work” as a means of “social control” and “managing the poor.”

Originating in the 16th century, relief giving to the poor began to be transferred from the private realm to the state. In Britain, the poor had to be registered and begging had to be authorized, and the Elizabethan Poor Laws, passed in 1572, “established a ‘poor rate’ tax and provided for secular control of the poor by justices of the peace, so-called overseers of the poor.” The poor were separated into three categories: “a) the poor by impotency, b) the poor by casualty, and c) the thriftless poor.” The third category, “thriftless poor,” were viewed as being responsible for their own condition, and thus had to “work for relief.” In the 18th century, workhouses began to emerge as a “policy innovation” to establish “worth” among the poor, to make them productive to the industrial class through contracting cheap labour in return for minor poverty relief. In the 19th century, the poorhouse “had become the official last resort for the poor.”[31]

The poorhouse and workhouse were often examined in the works of Charles Dickens. One is often reminded of the character Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, when approached by collectors seeking donations for poor relief, with the collector stating, “At this festive time of year, Mr. Scrooge, it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute.” To which Scrooge replied, “Are there no prisons?”

“Plenty of prisons.”

“And the union workhouses – are they still in operation?”

“They are. I wish I could say they were not.”

“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?”

“Both very busy, sir.”

“Oh, from what you said at first I was afraid that something had happened to stop them in their useful course. I’m very glad to hear it.”

Refusing to donate, Scrooge stated, “I help to support the establishments I have mentioned — they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

Scrooge replied, “If they would rather die… they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

This scene reflected the ideology and philosophy of elites in that era, and indeed, up until present day. The poorhouses of that era were terrible, where “conditions were so awful, the act of relief itself became the test of necessity.” Much like the stigma of welfare in today’s context, “[t]hose who presented themselves to the poorhouse were casting themselves outside of moral society,” as entrance into that situation “symbolized and made painfully concrete a loss of social status, citizenship, and even the right to one’s own labor and physical freedom.” The New Deal following the Great Depression in the 1930s reaffirmed, with its expanded welfare and social services, the stipulation that relief must only be in exchange for work and labour. This represents a “moral construction” of poverty and “the poor,” because they are deemed as being required to work for relief, as in, they are undeserving of relief without conditions, regardless of their circumstances. The “stigma” of poverty and welfare are such that the poor are viewed as generally undeserving of anything, of being the cause of their own poverty, and thus, if they want/need relief, they had better work for it. It was through working and labour that the poor, then, were able to provide a “social worth” in return for “poor relief.” It is thus no coincidence that social security and unemployment insurance were “restricted to individuals classified by policy as workers, that is, individuals with a relatively prolonged and steady formal work history.” As a result, this led to the exclusion of “agricultural and domestic workers as well as those in marginal jobs who moved in and out of work,” which, not coincidentally, included a significant portion of the black population in the United States.[32]

With the New Deal, the state in America moved into the realm of activity previously the focus of the philanthropic foundation. In fact, these private foundations were pivotal in the formation of the New Deal. As Barry Karl and Stanley Katz noted, “Franklin Roosevelt preferred to conceal the fact that so many of his major advisers on policy and some of his major programmes in social reform were the result of support by one of more of the private foundations,” particularly through the Rockefeller Foundation and the Social Science Research Council, funded by the Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations.[33] The support from such foundations, which represent the most elite interests within society and the capitalist class itself, founded and run by the wealthiest and most powerful bankers and industrialists of the era, represented an elite fear generated by the mass social unrest of the era brought on by the Great Depression, which was created by that very same class. Thus, social security and the New Deal were a means of securing social control.[34] The New Deal, however, also had a profoundly negative impact upon the “race question” in the United States, which broadly affected the black community. As Christopher G. Wye wrote in the Journal of American History:

[T]he New Deal public housing and emergency work programs played an important part in alleviating the problems generated by the Depression, [but] they also contributed to the preservation of perhaps the two salient components which combine to produce a caste-like Negro social structure – residential segregation and a distinctly racial occupational pattern.[35]

Civil Rights: From “Black Power” to “Black Capitalism”

The major foundations – Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller – were also heavily involved in the Civil Rights movement, but with specific aims of social control. In the 1950s, the Ford Foundation began taking an interest in the Civil Rights movement, and after convening a study on how to “improve race relations,” the Ford Foundation began giving grants to black colleges “to improve the quality of their educational offerings.”[36] By 1966, the Civil Rights movement was one of the major areas of Ford Foundation funding. Against the backdrop of the summer of 1966 in which there were 43 “urban disorders” (riots in ghettos), which had been “precipitated by confrontations between blacks and the police,” the Ford Foundation announced that it would “direct significant resources to the social justice area.” Among the aims of the Foundation were: “to improve leadership and programming within minority organizations; to explore approaches to better race relations; to support policy-oriented research on race and poverty; to promote housing integration; and to increase the availability of legal resources through support of litigating organizations and minority law students.”[37]

The Ford Foundation also sponsored the Grey Areas program in the early 1960s, which evolved into President Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” as a program for “urban renewal,” but was, in fact, concerned with issues arising out of poor people’s (and particularly poor people of colour’s) resistance to major urban growth projects undertaken by a coalition of corporations and corporatist labour unions following World War II. As Roger Friedland wrote:

Political challenge by the poor, and especially the nonwhite poor, threatened the dominance of the corporations and labor unions and the growth policies they pursued. It was the poorest neighborhoods which were displaced by urban renewal and highway construction, whose housing stock was depleted by clearance, whose employment opportunities were often reduced both by the expansion of office employment stimulated by central business district growth and by restrictive unionization on large construction projects and municipal jobs, and whose services were constrained by the enormous fiscal costs of the growth programs.[38]

It was in this context that the Ford Foundation established programs aimed at ameliorating the antagonisms within the impoverished communities, not through structural or systemic change of the causes of poverty, but through organization, institutionalization, and legalistic reform programs, thus leading to the government’s “War on Poverty.” The same approach was taken in regards to the Civil Rights movement.

There was a transformation between 1966 and 1967 of the notion of ‘black power’, which was increasingly viewed by elites and ‘authorities’, such as J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI, as “the beginning of a true black revolution.” Many advocates of ‘black power’ saw it as the beginnings of a revolt against “white western imperialist” America.[39] The Civil Rights movement was originally “launched by indigenous leadership and primarily mobilized the southern black community.” Thus, it was essential for large foundation funding of the movement, to effectively control its direction and impetus. This “elite involvement would seem to occur only as a response to the threat posed by the generation of a mass-based social movement.” The major foundations “supported the moderate civil rights organizations in response to the ‘radical flank’ threat of the militants, while non-elites (churches, unions and small individual donors) spread their support evenly.”[40]

Elite patronage of the Civil Rights movement “diverted leaders from indigenous organizing and exacerbated inter-organizational rivalries, thereby promoting movement decay.”[41] Foundation funding for civil rights did not become significant until 1961-62, five years after the Birmingham bus boycott, and the peak of foundation support for civil rights was in 1972-73, four to five years after the assassination of King.[42] This indicated that foundation grants to civil rights were ‘reactive’, in that they were designed in response to changes in the movement itself, implying that foundation patronage was aimed at social control. Further, most grants went to professionalized social movement organizations (SMOs) and in particular, the NAACP. While the professional SMOs initiated only 14% of movement actions, they accounted for 57% of foundation grants, while the classical SMOs, having carried out roughly 36% of movement actions, received roughly 32% of foundation grants. This disparity grew with time, so that by the 1970s, the classical SMOs garnered 25% of grants and the professional SMOs received nearly 70% of grants. Principally, the NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund were the most endowed with foundation support.[43] Many of the foundations subsequently became “centrally involved in the formulation of national social policy and responded to elite concerns about the riots.”[44]

It became clear that the older, established and moderate organizations received the most outside funding, such as the National Urban League, the NAACP and the Legal Defense and Educational Fund.[45] As the black struggles of the 1960s increasingly grew militant and activist-oriented in the latter half of the 1960s, “foundation contributions became major sources of income for the National Urban League, the Southern Regional Council, and the Legal Defense and Educational Fund.”[46] The attempt was to promote reform instead of losing their vested powers and interests in the face of a growing revolution.

The NAACP and the National Urban League represent the more moderate civil rights organizations, as they were also the oldest, with membership primarily made up of middle class African Americans, leading to many, including King himself, to suggest they were disconnected from the reality or in representing poor blacks in America.[47] The radicalization of the black protest movement led to the emergence of challenges to the NAACP and Urban League in being the ‘leaders’ in civil rights, as new organizations emerged which represented a broader array of the black population. Among them were the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which Martin Luther King led. Foundations increased funding for all of these organizations, but as activism and militancy accelerated in the latter half of the 1960s, the funding declined for the more radical, militant and activist organizations and increased dramatically for the established and moderate organizations. This trend continued going into the 1970s.

In 1967, Martin Luther King’s SCLC received $230,000 from the Ford Foundation, yet after his assassination, the organization received no more funding and virtually fell to pieces. That same year, the Ford Foundation gave the NAACP $300,000, and gave the Urban League $585,000. The Rockefeller Foundation granted the League $650,000, with the Carnegie Corporation coming in with $200,000. The Ford Foundation also gave the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) $175,000 in 1967.[48]

In 1968, with the SCLC out of the picture, Ford increased funding for CORE to $300,000, increased grants to the NAACP to $378,000, and gave the Urban League a monumental grant of $1,480,000. The same year, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation gave the NAACP $500,000 and $200,000 respectively. Clearly, the foundations were supporting the older established and moderate organizations over the new, young and activist/radical organizations. For the following year, 1969, CORE received no more grants from foundations, while the Ford, Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations increased their grants to the NAACP and the Urban League. In 1974, the NAACP received grants of $950,000 from the Ford Foundation, $250,000 from the Rockefeller Foundation, and $200,000 from the Carnegie Corporation. The Urban League received grants of $2,350,000 from the Ford Foundation and $350,000 from the Rockefeller Foundation.[49] The strategic use of foundation funding helped undermine and outmaneuver the radical and militant civil rights organizations, while strengthening and institutionalizing the reform-oriented organizations.

This co-optation of the civil rights movement was so vital to these elite interests for the principle reason of the movement taking its natural course, out of an ethnic or race-based focus and into a class and global social focus. A. Philip Randolph, a civil rights leader, spoke in 1963 at an ALF-CIO convention at which he stated, “The Negro’s protest today is but the first rumbling of the ‘under-class.’ As the Negro has taken to the streets, so will the unemployed of all races take to the streets.”[50] The aim of foundation funding for the Civil Rights movement was to direct it from a potentially revolutionary position – that of ‘Black Power’ – and transform it into a reformist and legalistic movement, ostensibly to establish “Black Capitalism.” Thus, instead of changing the systemic and institutional structures of society which had created racism, segregation, and exploitation, the “success” of the Civil Rights movement (apart from the very real achievements of securing basic civil rights for black citizens) was seen by elites as the ability of blacks to rise within the institutional and hierarchical system which dominated society, not to challenge or change it fundamentally.

The “Excess of Democracy”

In the 1970s, elite intellectual discussion was dominated by what was referred to as “democratic overload,” or what the Trilateral Commission referred to in a report of the same title as, “The Crisis of Democracy.” One of the principal authors of this 1975 report was Samuel Huntington, who wrote that the 1960s saw a surge in democracy in America, with an upswing in citizen participation, often “in the form of marches, demonstrations, protest movements, and ‘cause’ organizations.”[51] Further, “the 1960s also saw a reassertion of the primacy of equality as a goal in social, economic, and political life.”[52] Of course, for Huntington and the Trilateral Commission, which was founded by Huntington’s friend, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and banker David Rockefeller, the idea of “equality as a goal in social, economic, and political life” is a terrible and frightening prospect. Huntington analyzed how as part of this “democratic surge,” statistics showed that throughout the 1960s and into the early 1970s, there was a dramatic increase in the percentage of people who felt the United States was spending too much on defense (from 18% in 1960 to 52% in 1969, largely due to the Vietnam War).[53]

Huntington wrote that the “essence of the democratic surge of the 1960s was a general challenge to existing systems of authority, public and private,” and that, “People no longer felt the same compulsion to obey those whom they had previously considered superior to themselves in age, rank, status, expertise, character, or talents.” He explained that in the 1960s, “hierarchy, expertise, and wealth” had come “under heavy attack.”[54] He stated that the three key issues which were central to the increased political participation in the 1960s were:

social issues, such as use of drugs, civil liberties, and the role of women; racial issues, involving integration, busing, government aid to minority groups, and urban riots; military issues, involving primarily, of course, the war in Vietnam but also the draft, military spending, military aid programs, and the role of the military-industrial complex more generally.[55]

Huntington presented these issues, essentially, as the “crisis of democracy,” in that they increased distrust with the government and authority, that they led to social and ideological polarization, and ultimately, to a “decline in the authority, status, influence, and effectiveness of the presidency.”[56] Huntington concluded that many problems of governance in the United States stem from an “excess of democracy,” and that, “the effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups.” Huntington explained that society has always had “marginal groups” which do not participate in politics, and while acknowledging that the existence of “marginality on the part of some groups is inherently undemocratic,” it has also “enabled democracy to function effectively.” Huntington identifies “the blacks” as one such group that had become politically active, posing a “danger of overloading the political system with demands.”[57]

Huntington, in his conclusion, stated that the vulnerability of democracy, essentially the ‘crisis of democracy,’ comes “from the internal dynamics of democracy itself in a highly educated, mobilized, and participant society,” and that what is needed is “a more balanced existence” in which there are “desirable limits to the indefinite extension of political democracy.”[58] Summed up, the Trilateral Commission Task Force Report essentially explained that the “Crisis of Democracy” is that there is too much of it, and so the ‘solution’ to the crisis, is to have less democracy and more ‘authority’.

To have “less democracy,” however, required careful and strategic moves and considerations. Primarily, the means through which this objective would be reached was through the disciplinary measures of the “free market” and “regulation of the poor.” This led to the neoliberal era, where this program of “reducing democracy” took place not only in the United States, but on a global scale. The disciplinary means undertaken in the ‘Third World’ nations were brought on by the 1980s debt crisis, and the World Bank and IMF “structural adjustment programs” which invariably expanded poverty, debt, and supported ruthless dictatorships which suppressed their own populations. This era also saw the “globalization of the ghetto” with the rapid development of urban slums around the world, to the point where over one billion people today live in slums. In the United States, the middle classes began to be mired in debt, particular the expansion of student debt, which served as a disciplinary feature, so that students were no longer activists or mobilized, but simply had to graduate and get jobs to pay off their debts.

A 1971 memo written by a representative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reflected the fear inherent in the Trilateral Commission report of a few years later at the problems posed to elite interests by the “excess of democracy.” It referred to these “excesses” as a “broad attack” on the American economic system. The memo noted that, “the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts.” While noting that sources of the attack include leftists and revolutionaries, it also acknowledged that the “attack” was being joined “from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians.” The author of the memo stated that, “If our system is to survive, top [corporate] management must be equally concerned with protecting and preserving the system itself.” It went on:

But independent and uncoordinated activity by individual corporations, as important as this is, will not be sufficient. Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations.[59]

The memo then went on to articulate a major program of “counter attack” with an emphasis on changing the educational system, the media, and bringing the state and courts more directly into the business community’s orbit. This era saw the emergence of the major right-wing think tanks, and the expanded influence of business leaders in the media, government, and universities, crowned with the Reagan-Thatcher era of neoliberalism: privatization, deregulation, debt-expansion, impoverishment, and punishment.

Punishing the Poor

In regards to the black population, who created quite a stir among the American elites in the 1960s and into the 1970s, the response from the elite sector was similar as to what it was during the Reconstruction period following the Civil War: mass incarceration. Reagan’s “war on drugs” led to a rapid expansion of legislation purportedly aimed to reduce the problems of the illicit drug trade in the United States (while the Reagan administration secretly supported the drug trade in covert operations abroad, such as in Nicaragua, the Iran-Contra Scandal, etc.).

The growth of the prison population in the United States from 1975 onward was marked simultaneously by a decline in welfare recipients. In fact, the largest prison systems were established in states with the weaker welfare systems. Between 1980 and 2000, “the number of people incarcerated in the United States increased by 300 percent, from 500,000 to nearly 2 million.” The parole and probation population, by 2000, included 3.8 million people, and by 1998, “nearly 6 million people – almost 3 percent of the adult population – were under some form of correctional supervision.” As reported in the journal, Punishment & Society:

The impact of these developments has fallen disproportionately on young African-Americans and Latinos. By 1994, one of every three black males between the ages of 18-34 was under some form of correctional supervision, and the number of Hispanic prisoners has more than quintupled since 1980. These developments are not primarily the consequence of rising crime rates, but rather the ‘get-tough’ policies of the wars on crime and drugs.[60]

As sociologists Katherine Beckett and Bruce Western wrote, “in the wake of the Reagan revolution, penal and welfare institutions have come to form a single policy regime aimed at the governance of social marginality,” or, in other words, the management of the poor and non-white populations. Thus, reduced welfare spending as a method of social control was replaced with increased incarceration and imprisonment.[61]

The prison system itself, which had its origins in the application of social control, functioned through segregation and discrimination, has not evolved from these institutional ideologies that saw its development over several hundred years. The prison and incarceration, according to philosopher and historian Michel Foucault, was “a new form of repression, designed to consolidate the political and economic power of capitalism under the modern state,” in what he termed, “the disciplinary society.”[62]

Just as took place during the criminalization of black life following the Civil War, the criminalization of black life following the Civil Rights Movement saw not only the growth of incarceration rates for the black community, but also saw the growth of the use of the prison population as a source of cheap labour. In today’s context, with privatization of prisons, outsourcing of prison labour, and other forms of exploitation of the “punished” population, this has given rise to what is often referred to as the “prison-industrial complex.”[63]

Conclusion

This article was but a brief sampling of some of the information, issues, ideas, events, and processes that will be thoroughly researched and written about in two chapters for The People’s Book Project. If you found the information enlightening, interesting, or important, please contribute to the People’s Grant goal of raising $1,600 to finance the completion of two chapters on this subject, which will include a great deal more than was sampled above, deeper analysis, more detailed and documented understandings, and a much wider, global contextualization. This was but a minor fraction of what can be completed with the support of readers. Help get this important information into the public sphere. As the global economic crisis rapidly expands the global rates of impoverishment, as the middle class vanishes into debt and poverty, and as our societies are reorganized to “manage” these social, political, and economic changes, this history is vital to understanding not only the objectives, ideas and actions of elites, but also the ways in which the people may challenge them.

Contribute to The People’s Grant:

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.

Notes

[1]            A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., “Racism and the Early American Legal Process, 1619-1896,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (Vol. 407, No. 1, May 1973), page 1.

[2]            Ibid, page 6.

[3]            David McNally, Another World is Possible: Globalization and Anti-Capitalism (Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2006), page 149.

[4]            Ibid, page 150.

[5]            Ibid, pages 151-152.

[6]            Ibid, pages 152-153.

[7]            Ibid, page 153.

[8]            Ibid, pages 153-154.

[9]            Ibid, pages 154-155.

[10]            Ibid, page 155.

[11]            William Cohen, “Negro Involuntary Servitude in the South, 1865-1940,” The Journal of Southern History (Vol. 42, No. 1, February 1976), page 33.

[12]            Ibid, page 34.

[13]            Brian Kelly, “Labor, Race, and the Search for a Central Theme in the History of the Jim Crow South,” Irish Journal of American Studies (Vol. 10, 2001), page 58.

[14]            William H. Worger, “Convict Labour, Industrialists and the State in the US South and South Africa, 1870-1930,” Journal of Southern African Studies (Vol. 30, No. 1, March 2004), page 68.

[15]            Ibid, pages 68-69.

[16]            Ibid, page 85.

[17]            Eduardo Mendieta, “Plantations, Ghettos, Prisons: US Racial Geographies,” Philosophy and Geography (Vol. 7, No. 1, February 2004), page 52.

[18]            Ibid, pages 52-53.

[19]            Carl H. Nightingale, “A Tale of Three Global Ghettos: How Arnold Hirsch Helps Us Internationalize U.S. Urban History,” Journal of Urban History (Vol. 29, No. 3, March 2003), page 262.

[20]            Ibid, page 265.

[21]            Karen Ferguson, “Organizing the Ghetto: The Ford Foundation, CORE, and White Power in the Black Power Era, 1967-1969,” Journal of Urban History (Vol. 34, No. 1, November 2007), pages 69, 96.

[22]            William J. Quirk and Leon E. Wein, “Homeownership for the Poor: Tenant Condominiums, the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968, and the Rockefeller Program,” Cornell Law Review (Vol. 54, No. 6, July 1969), pages 849, 855.

[23]            Peter L. Laurence, “The Death and Life of Urban Design: Jane Jacobs, The Rockefeller Foundation and the New Research in Urbanism, 1955-1965,” Journal of Urban Design (Vol. 11, No. 2, June 2006), page 145.

[24]            Robert F. Arnove, ed., Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism: The Foundations at Home and Abroad (Indiana University Press, 1980), pages 180-181.

[25]            Ibid, page 181.

[26]            Ibid.

[27]            Ibid, page 182.

[28]            Ibid, pages 185-186.

[29]            Ibid, pages 188-190.

[30]            Ibid, page 194.

[31]            Evelyn Z. Brodkin, “The Making of an Enemy: How Welfare Policies Construct the Poor,” Law & Social Inquiry (Vol. 18, No. 4, Autumn 1993), pages 655-656.

[32]            Ibid, pages 656-658.

[33]            Barry D. Karl and Stanley N. Katz, “The American Private Philanthropic Foundation and the Public Sphere 1890-1930,” Minerva (Vol. 19, No. 2, Summer 1981), page 268.

[34]            J. Craig Jenkins and Barbara Brents, “Capitalists and Social Security: What Did They Really Want?” American Sociological Review (Vol. 56, No. 1, February 1991), page 129.

[35]            Christopher G. Wye, “The New Deal and the Negro Community: Toward a Broader Conceptualization,” The Journal of American History (Vol. 59, No. 3, December 1972), page 639.

[36]            Lynn Walker, “The Role of Foundations in Helping to Reach the Civil Rights Goals of the 1980s,” Rutgers Law Review, (1984-1985), page 1059.

[37]            Ibid, page 1060.

[38]            Roger Friedland, “Class Power and Social Control: The War on Poverty,” Politics & Society (Vol. 6, No. 4, December 1976), pages 459-461.

[39]            Robert C. Smith, “Black Power and the Transformation from Protest to Policies,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 96, No. 3, (Autumn, 1981), page 438

[40]            J. Craig Jenkins and Craig M. Eckert, “Channeling Black Insurgency: Elite Patronage and Professional Social Movement Organizations in the Development of the Black Movement,” American Sociological Review, Vol. 51, No. 6, (Dec., 1986), page 814.

[41]            Ibid, page 815.

[42]            Ibid, pages 819-820.

[43]            Ibid, page 821.

[44]            Ibid, page 826.

[45]            Herbert H. Haines, “Black Radicalization and the Funding of Civil Rights: 1957-1970,” Social Problems, Vol. 32, No. 1, Thematic Issue on Minorities and Social Movements, (Oct., 1984), page 38.

[46]            Ibid, page 40.

[47]            Martin N. Marger, “Social Movement Organizations and Response to Environmental Change: The NAACP, 1960- 1973,” Social Problems, Vol. 32, No. 1, Thematic Issue on Minorities and Social Movements, (Oct., 1984), page 22.

[48]            Ibid, page 25.

[49]            Ibid.

[50]            Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (Harper: New York, 2003), page 464.

[51]            Michel J. Crozier, Samuel P. Huntington and Joji Watanuki, The Crisis of Democracy. (Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission, New York University Press, 1975), page 61.

[52]            Ibid, page 62.

[53]            Ibid, page 71.

[54]            Ibid, pages 74-75.

[55]            Ibid, page 77.

[56]            Ibid, page 93.

[57]            Ibid, pages 113-114.

[58]            Ibid, page 115.

[59]            Lewis F. Powell, Jr., “Confidential Memorandum: Attack of American Free Enterprise System,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 23 August 1971: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/supremecourt/personality/sources_document13.html

[60]            Katherine Beckett and Bruce Western, “Governing Social Marginality: Welfare, Incarceration, and the Transformation of State Policy,” Punishment & Society (Vol. 3, No. 1, January 2001), pages 43-44.

[61]            Ibid, page 55.

[62]            Robert P. Weiss, “Humanitarianism, Labour Exploitation, or Social Control? A Critical Survey of Theory and Research on the Origin and Development of Prisons,” Social History (Vol. 12, No. 3, October 1987), page 333.

[63]            Rose M. Brewer and Nancy A. Heitzeg, “The Racialization of Crime and Punishment: Criminal Justice, Color-Blind Racism, and the Political Economy of the Prison Industrial Complex,” American Behavioral Scientist (Vol. 51, No. 5, January 2008).

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3 Comments

  1. nonviolentconflict says:

    Reblogged this on NonviolentConflict.

  2. […] An Empire of Poverty: Race, Punishment, and Social Control […]

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