Andrew Gavin Marshall

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First Book To Be Done by the End of Summer!

In the past couple months I have been writing almost exclusively on the student movement in Quebec, as well as various other student/social movements around the world. As a result, my work on The People’s Book Project has been postponed, apart from continued research. In the past week, I decided to take a break from everything and re-work my plans for the Book Project and other initiatives.

For those who have been following the evolution of the Book Project since it began in October of 2011, the notion of me “reorganizing” the Project is not new; in fact, it has happened a few times. However, progress on the Project has been continuous, and I have written over 800 pages unedited. It remains disjointed and is a ways away from being a completed project, but that brings me to my current decision. Previously, I had planned to write the whole manuscript through and subsequently break it up into several smaller books, this would still take too long. The support from readers has been consistently wonderful and VERY important: I would not be where I am without you, so thank you. But I find it difficult to ask for (and to receive) additional support when I am in fact not producing a final product for a while. The support is faith-based in the expectation of a final product somewhere down the line. This is a great deal to ask of readers and supporters. This is also frustrating for me personally, as I am in need of actually producing something concrete, and better yet, something which can in turn begin to produce some extra funding for me (as small as the amount is likely to be, at least it’s something!).

So, the NEW and IMPROVED People’s Book Project:

– the focus of the Project is still on producing a series of books on a radical history and analysis of power in our world, understanding the nature of our society, how we got here, where we’re going, and what we can do to change it: a study of the evolution of power and resistance in the modern world

– I will be writing one book at a time, each will be divided according to broad subjects (political economy, imperialism and terror, social engineering and education, race and poverty, psychology and psychiatry, the scientific-technological society, and the world revolution)

– I am starting with a book that will serve as a preface/introduction to the entire Project: a look at where our global society is and how it is changing: the origin, evolution, and effects of the global economic crisis; the advanced stage of global imperialism and war; the moves toward global governance and domination; and the age of anti-austerity rebellions (as well as the efforts to co-opt, control, or destroy them), from the Arab Spring, to the Indignados and Europe, to the Occupy Movement, and to student movements in Chile and Quebec.

The Preface to the People’s Book Project will be a significant book on its own, and gives a glimpse of the state of the world at present, and the prospects for global oppression and global revolution. It hits at key issues that are affecting the lives of everyone in the world today, and thus, I think it is a timely and necessary introduction to the Book Project at large, which will be a far more comprehensive and detailed historical analysis of how we got to this current point in history, and where it is ultimately leading. My aim is to have this first book – the Preface – finished by the end of the summer (the end of August/early September).

I have already started work on the chapter covering the economic crisis, and after five days of work thus far, I am 50 pages (single-spaced) into this examination of the crisis, focusing on Europe at the moment. It’s very detailed, but an important look at power in this crisis, how it has and is being abused, for whom and with what intent, and how it effects the majority of people who have no access to or influence over that power (i.e., everyone but the elite). I have already written a good deal on several of the other subjects I will be writing about in this project, specifically in relation to the Quebec student movement, and thus, I am hoping that this book moves forward quickly and efficiently. I am incredibly motivated, and am working at a faster pace than I am certainly used to.

Also, I am planning to post a rather large chunk of the current chapter I am writing, so that you – the readers and supporters – may see what my current work is looking like. The excerpt I will provide is a look at the debt crisis and its effects in Italy, and all I can say from my research is that it’s quite the story!

I think that this method of approaching the Project is better for myself and my readers and supporters. After eight months of the People’s Book Project, I think it’s time to start producing finished products. By the time the entire Project is finished, it will no doubt be quite some time from now. But if I am able to do it piecemeal, book by book, subject by subject, and finish it off with an amalgamated, compressed, and comprehensive summary of all the works before it, this would make it a more useful enterprise for both myself and my supporters.

So that is why I have set the goal of having the first book written by the end of the Summer. For that, I again need to ask for your support. I am setting a goal of raising $2,500 to get me through the Summer while I dedicate my time to finishing this first volume. Of course, edits and publishing will follow, and that takes time, but it is time that I produce something I can call my own, and which my readers and supporters can see as the fruitful product of their support. No more hesitation, no more indecision, no more procrastination: it’s time to PRODUCE a final product! Help me make that a reality!

I will make more details about the reorganization of the Project as I decide upon it. The other volumes I have in mind have yet to be finalized as ideas, and remain just that: ideas. But the first volume, the Preface/Introduction – the age of crisis, austerity, global governance and global revolution – is already being written, and written quickly. It’s radical, it’s critical, it’s full of facts: it will make you angry, informed, and I hope, inspired. I know it’s certainly having that effect upon me.

Thank you so much for all your kind support!

Sincerely,

Andrew Gavin Marshall

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VIDEO: A Radical History of Race and Poverty

 

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Podcast: “Black History in the United States: Slavery, Segregation, and Social Control”

EPP

In a highly critical black history of the United States, this episode examines the social construction of race (and racism) starting in the late 1600s as a means of social control, devised through the colonial legal system to separate white and black labour, prison labour, black education system, the developments of ghettos as a means of segregating the black population, the civil rights organizations in an attempt to steer the movement away from its natural and potentially revolutionary course to confront the entire social- economic- political system of racism, and the “war on drugs” and laws disproportionately targeting the black community.

Understanding the history of those who have been most oppressed within it is vital to understanding the true nature of the society we live in; thus, the black history of the United States is indivisible from the total history of the United States, and the subject bears relevance to the future of poverty and class struggle in a world of enormous inequality.

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RELATED: “An Empire of Poverty: Race, Punishment, and Social Control”

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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).

War, Racism and the Empire of Poverty

War, Racism and the Empire of Poverty
When Empire Hits Home, Part 1
Global Research, March 22, 2010

At a time of such great international turmoil economically and politically, it is increasingly important to identify and understand the social dynamics of crisis. A global social crisis has long preceded the economic crisis, and has only been exacerbated by it. The great shame of human civilization is the fact that over half of it lives in abysmal poverty.

Poverty is not simply a matter of ‘bad luck’; it is a result of socio-political-economic factors that allow for very few people in the world to control so much wealth and so many resources, while so many are left with so little. The capitalist world system was built upon war, race, and empire. Malcolm X once declared, “You can’t have capitalism without racism.”

The global political economy is a system that enriches the very few at the expense of the vast majority. This exploitation is organized through imperialism, war, and the social construction of race. It is vitally important to address the relationship between war, poverty and race in the context of the current global economic crisis. Western nations have plundered the rest of the world for centuries, and now the great empire is hitting home. What is done abroad comes home to roost.

The Social Construction of ‘Race’

500 years ago, the world was going through massive transformations, as the Spanish, Portuguese, French, and British colonized the ‘New World’ and in time, a new system of ‘Capitalism’ and ‘nation states’ began to emerge. The world was in a great period of transition and systemic change in which it was the Europeans that emerged as the dominant world powers. 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.”[1]

The Americas had both un-free blacks and whites, with blacks being a minority, yet they “exercised basic rights in law.”[2] 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.[3]

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.[4]

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, “Such 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.”[5]

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.”[6] 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.”[7]

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, “Freedom was increasingly identified with race, not class.”[8]

It is out of this that ideas of race and later, ‘race science’ emerged, as eugenics became the dominant ideology of western elites, trying to scientifically ‘prove’ the superiority of ‘whites’ and the ‘inferiority’ of ‘blacks’. This would carry a dual nature of justifying white domination, as well as providing both a justification for and excuse to oppress black people, and in fact, people of all ‘races’. This was especially clear as in the late 1800s and early 1900s the European empires undertook the ‘Scramble for Africa’ in which they colonized the entire continent (save Ethiopia). It was largely justified as a ‘civilizing’ mission; yet, it was fundamentally about gaining access to Africa’s vast resources.

Following World War II, global power rested predominantly in America, the leading hegemon, expanding the economic interests of North America and Western Europe around the world. War, empire, and racism have been central features of this expansion. In large part, poverty has been the result. Now, the empire hits home.

Global Labour

The world has almost 6.8 billion people, half of them female. The world economy has a labour force of 3.184 billion people; of all people employed in the world, 40% are women. While the world is equally male and female, 1.8 billion men are employed, compared to 1.2 billion women. The population of people in low paying jobs, long hours, and part-time work are predominantly women.[9]

Global Poverty and Wealth

In 1999, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) reported that, “Although 200 million people saw their incomes fall between 1965 and 1980, more than 1 billion people experienced a drop from 1980 to 1993.” In 1996, “100 countries were worse off than 15 years [prior].” In the late 1960s, “the people in well-to-do countries were 30 times better off than those in countries where the poorest 20 percent of the world’s people live. By 1998, this gap had widened to 82 times (up from 61 times since 1996).” As of 1998, “3 billion people live on less than $2 per day while 1.3 billion get by on less than $1 per day. Seventy percent of those living on less than $1 per day are women.”[10]

Elites and academics, as well as major social movements in western nations focus on population growth as being the driver in global poverty, picking up from where the Malthusians left off; poverty becomes the problem caused by “population growth” as opposed to a problem caused by wealth and resource distribution. In 2003, a World Bank report revealed that, “A minority of the world’s population (17%) consume most of the world’s resources (80%), leaving almost 5 billion people to live on the remaining 20%. As a result, billions of people are living without the very basic necessities of life – food, water, housing and sanitation.” Further:

1.2 billion (20%) of the world population now lives on less that $1/day, another 1.8 billion (30%) lives on less than $2/day, 800 million go to bed hungry every day, and 30,000 – 60,000 die each day from hunger alone. The story is the same, when it comes to other necessities like water, housing, education etc. On the flip side, we have increasing accumulation of wealth and power, where the world’s 500 or so billionaires have assets of 1.9 trillion dollars, a sum greater than the income of the poorest 170 countries in the world.[11]

Other figures from the World Bank report include the fact that, “The world’s 358 billionaires have assets exceeding the combined annual incomes of countries with 45 percent of the world’s people,” and “The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the poorest 48 nations (i.e. a quarter of the world’s countries) is less than the wealth of the world’s three richest people combined.” Incredibly, “A few hundred millionaires now own as much wealth as the world’s poorest 2.5 billion people.”[12]

In regards to poverty and hunger statistics, “Over 840 million people in the world are malnourished—799 million of them are from the developing world. Sadly, more than 153 million of them are under the age of 5 (half the entire US population).” Further, “Every day, 34,000 children under five die of hunger or other hunger-related diseases. This results in 6 million deaths a year.” That amounts to a “Hunger Holocaust” that takes place every single year. As of 2003, “Of 6.2 billion living today, 1.2 billion live on less than $1 per day. Nearly 3 billion people live on less than $2 a day.”[13]

In 2005, according to World Bank statistics, “More than one-half of the world’s people live below the internationally defined poverty line of less than U.S. $2 a day,” and “Nearly one-third of rural residents worldwide lack access to safe drinking water.”[14]

In 2006, a groundbreaking and comprehensive report released by the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University (UNU-WIDER) reported that, “The richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of global household wealth.” An incredible startling statistic was that:

[T]he richest 1% of adults alone owned 40% of global assets in the year 2000, and that the richest 10% of adults accounted for 85% of the world total. In contrast, the bottom half of the world adult population owned barely 1% of global wealth.[15]

This is worth repeating: the top 1% owns 40% of global assets; the top 10% owns 85% of world assets; and the bottom 50% owns 1% of global assets.

The 2009 UN Millennium Development Goals report stated that in the wake of the global economic crisis and the global food crisis that preceded and continued through the economic crisis, progress towards the goals of poverty reduction are “threatened by sluggish – or even negative – economic growth, diminished resources, fewer trade opportunities for the developing countries, and possible reductions in aid flows from donor nations.”[16]

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) report stated that in 2009, “an estimated 55 million to 90 million more people will be living in extreme poverty than anticipated before the crisis.” Further, “the encouraging trend in the eradication of hunger since the early 1990s was reversed in 2008, largely due to higher food prices.” Hunger in developing regions has risen to 17% in 2008, and “children bear the brunt of the burden.”[17]

In April of 2009, a major global charity, Oxfam, reported that a couple trillion dollars given to bail out banks could have been enough “to end global extreme poverty for 50 years.”[18] In September of 2009, Oxfam reported that the economic crisis “is forcing 100 people-a-minute into poverty.” Oxfam stated that, “Developing countries across the globe are struggling to respond to the global recession that continues to slash incomes, destroy jobs and has helped push the total number of hungry people in the world above 1 billion.”[19]

The financial crisis has hit the ‘developing’ world much harder than the western developed nations of the world. The UN reported in March of 2009 that, “Reduced growth in 2009 will cost the 390 million people in sub-Saharan Africa living in extreme poverty around $18 billion, or $46 per person,” and “This projected loss represents 20 per cent of the per capita income of Africa’s poor – a figure that dwarfs the losses sustained in the developed world.”[20]

While the world’s richest regions lie in North America, Europe, and Pacific Asia respectively, the vast majority of the rest of the world lives in gross poverty. This disparity is ‘colour-coded’, too; as the top, the worlds wealthy, are white, while the world’s impoverished, the vast majority of the world’s people, are people of colour. This disparity is further polarized when gender is included, as the majority of the wealthy are men, while the majority of the impoverished are women. This disparity of a global scale is carried over to a national scale in the United States.

Race and Poverty in America

In the last months of Martin Luther King’s life, he focused his attention to the struggle against poverty. Today, “Sadly, as far as the country has come regarding civil rights, more Americans live in poverty today than during King’s lifetime. Forty million people, 13% of the population, currently fall below the poverty line.” In 1967, King wrote:

In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out. There are twice as many white poor as [black] poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects white and [black] alike.[21]

Today, “more whites than blacks do still live in poverty, but a higher proportion of minorities fall below the poverty line, including 25% of blacks and 23% of Latinos (compared to 9% of whites). Stable jobs, good housing, comprehensive education and adequate health care are still unequal, unsuitable and, in many cases, unavailable.” King wrote, “The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct, and immediate abolition of poverty.”[22]

In 1995, “Federal Reserve research found that the wealth of the top one percent of Americans is greater than that of the bottom 95 percent.” Further, “Wealth projections through 1997 suggest that 86 percent of stock market gains between 1989 and 1997 went to the top ten percent of households while 42 percent went to the most well-to-do one percent.”[23]

Wealth disparity is not colour-blind. As of 1998, “The modest net worth of white families [was] 8 times that of African-Americans and 12 times that of Hispanics. The median financial wealth of African-Americans (net worth less home equity) [was] $200 (one percent of the $18,000 for whites) while that of Hispanics [was] zero.” Further, “Household debt as a percentage of personal income rose from 58 percent in 1973 to an estimated 85 percent in 1997.”[24]

In 2000, a major university study revealed that the poor were more likely to be audited by the IRS than the rich.[25] In December of 2009, the Seattle Times ran an article in which they tell the story of Rachel Porcaro, a 32-year-old mother of two boys. She was summoned to the IRS back in 2008 where she was told she was being audited. When she asked why, she was told that, “You made eighteen thousand, and our data show a family of three needs at least thirty-six thousand to get by in Seattle.” Thus, “They thought she must have unreported income. That she was hiding something. Basically they were auditing her for not making enough money.”[26]

The reporter for the Seattle Times wrote that, “An estimated 60,000 people in Seattle live below the poverty line — meaning they make $11,000 or less for an individual or $22,000 for a family of four. Does the IRS red-flag them for scrutiny, simply because they’re poor?” He contacted the local IRS office with that question; they “said they couldn’t comment for privacy reasons.” What followed the initial audit was even worse:

She had a yearlong odyssey into the maw of the IRS. After being told she couldn’t survive in Seattle on so little, she was notified her returns for both 2006 and 2007 had been found “deficient.” She owed the government more than $16,000 — almost an entire year’s pay.

[. . . ] Rachel’s returns weren’t all that complicated. At issue, though, was that she and her two sons, ages 10 and 8, were all living at her parents’ house in Rainier Beach (she pays $400 a month rent). So the IRS concluded she wasn’t providing for her children and therefore couldn’t claim them as dependents.[27]

A family friend who was an accountant determined that the IRS was wrong in its interpretation of the tax law; “He sent in the necessary code citations and hoped that would be the end of it.” But the story wasn’t over; “Instead, the IRS responded by launching an audit of Rachel’s parents.” Rachel said, “We’re surviving as a tribe. It seems like we got punished for that.”[28]

Taxation is a major issue related to poverty. A major report issued in November of 2009 revealed that the state of “Alabama makes families living in poverty pay higher income taxes than any other state.” Thus, “At the lowest incomes, we have some of the highest taxes in the nation because our system is upside down.”[29]

In November of 2009, stunning statistics were revealed as a true test of poverty in America:

With food stamp use at record highs and climbing every month, a program once scorned as a failed welfare scheme now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children.

It has grown so rapidly in places so diverse that it is becoming nearly as ordinary as the groceries it buys. More than 36 million people use inconspicuous plastic cards for staples like milk, bread and cheese, swiping them at counters in blighted cities and in suburbs pocked with foreclosure signs.

Virtually all have incomes near or below the federal poverty line, but their eclectic ranks testify to the range of people struggling with basic needs. They include single mothers and married couples, the newly jobless and the chronically poor, longtime recipients of welfare checks and workers whose reduced hours or slender wages leave pantries bare.[30]

The food stamps program is growing at the pace of 20,000 people per day, as “There are 239 counties in the United States where at least a quarter of the population receives food stamps,” and “In more than 750 counties, the program helps feed one in three blacks. In more than 800 counties, it helps feed one in three children.” Further, “food stamps reach about two-thirds of those eligible” nationwide.[31] Thus, there is potentially 18 million more Americans eligible to use food stamps, which would make the figure soar to 54 million.

In 2008, tent cities started popping up in and around cities all across the United States, as the homeless population rapidly expanded like never before.[32] The Guardian reported in March of 2009 that, “Tent cities reminiscent of the “Hoovervilles” of the Great Depression have been springing up in cities across the United States – from Reno in Nevada to Tampa in Florida – as foreclosures and redundancies force middle-class families from their homes.”[33]

An April 2009 article in the German newspaper Der Spiegel ran a report on the middle class in the US being thrown into poverty, in which the authors wrote, “The financial crisis in the US has triggered a social crisis of historic dimensions. Soup kitchens are suddenly in great demand and tent cities are popping up in the shadow of glistening office towers.” Further:

Poverty as a mass phenomenon is back. About 50 million Americans have no health insurance, and more people are added to their ranks every day. More than [36] million people receive food stamps, and 13 million are unemployed. The homeless population is growing in tandem with a rapid rise in the rate of foreclosures, which were 45 percent higher in March 2009 than they were in the same month of the previous year.

[. . . ] The crisis in the lower third of society has turned into an existential threat for some Americans. Many soup kitchens are turning away the hungry, and even hastily constructed new facilities to house the homeless are often inadequate to satisfy the rising demand.

Many private corporations across America are withdrawing their funding for social welfare projects. Ironically, their generosity is ending just as mass poverty is returning to America.[34]

Crime was also reported to be on the rise at a dramatic rate. One criminologist explained that in the face of more Americans struggling in harsh economic times, “The American dream to them is a nightmare, and the land of opportunity is but a cruel joke.” Statistics were confirming his predictions of a rise in crisis-related crime, as April 2009 was “one of the bloodier months in American criminal history.” A professor of criminology stated, “I’ve never seen such a large number (of killings) over such a short period of time involving so many victims.”[35]

In the midst of the euphoria over a perceived economic recovery, which has yet to “trickle down” to the people, tent cities have not vanished. In late February of 2010, it was reported that, “Just an hour outside of New York City, a thriving tent city gives a home to refugees from the economic downturn.” Many people in poverty “have become so desperate that they have had to move into the woods.” One woman in this forest tent city outside of New York had been living there for two years. She said, “I just went through a divorce. And it was a bad divorce. And I ended up here, homeless in here.”[36]

Rob, a 21-year-old who was laid off when the Great ‘Recession’ began, is the youngest homeless man living in the forest tent city. He said the worst part is the shame, “The embarrassment of walking out of here, the cars see you come by and they know who you are. The shame of walking into town and having people give you dirty looks just for the way you’re forced to live.”[37]

While many more millions are being plunged into poverty, the internal disparities of race, gender, and age still persist. In November of 2009, it was reported that the jobless rate for 16-to-24-year-old black men has reached Great Depression proportions, as 34.5% of young black men were unemployed in October of 2009, “more than three times the rate for the general U.S. population.” Further:

The jobless rate for young black men and women is 30.5 percent. For young blacks — who experts say are more likely to grow up in impoverished racially isolated neighborhoods, attend subpar public schools and experience discrimination — race statistically appears to be a bigger factor in their unemployment than age, income or even education. Lower-income white teens were more likely to find work than upper-income black teens, according to the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, and even blacks who graduate from college suffer from joblessness at twice the rate of their white peers.[38]

Another startling statistic in the report was that, “Young black women have an unemployment rate of 26.5 percent, while the rate for all 16-to-24-year-old women is 15.4 percent.” The fact that these are the statistics for young people is especially concerning, as “the consequences can be long-lasting”:

This might be the first generation that does not keep up with its parents’ standard of living. Jobless teens are more likely to be jobless twenty-somethings. Once forced onto the sidelines, they likely will not catch up financially for many years. That is the case even for young people of all ethnic groups who graduate from college.[39]

With poverty, food scarcity increases. While many Americans and people the world over have felt the effects of the recession on their daily meals, the race disparity persists in this facet as well, as “one in four African-American households struggles to put food on the table on a regular basis, compared with about one in seven households nationally.” Further, “90 percent of African American children will receive food stamp benefits by the time they turn 20.”[40]

In March of 2010, a truly staggering report was released by a major economic research group which concluded that, “Women of all races bring home less income and own fewer assets, on average, than men of the same race, but for single black women the disparities are so overwhelmingly great that even in their prime working years their median wealth amounts to only $5.” Let’s review that again:

[W]hile single white women in the prime of their working years (ages 36 to 49) have a median wealth of $42,600 (still only 61 percent of their single white male counterparts), the median wealth for single black women is only $5.[41]

The research organization analyzed data from the Federal Reserve’s 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances. Wealth, or net worth, in the report, is defined as:

[T]he total of one’s assets — cash in the bank, stocks, bonds and real estate; minus debts — home mortgages, auto loans, credit cards and student loans. The most recent financial data was collected before the economic downturn, so the current numbers likely are worse now than at the time of the study.[42]

The study further revealed that, “For all working-age black women 18 to 64, the financial picture is bleak. Their median household wealth is only $100. Hispanic women in that age group have a median wealth of $120.” Black women are more likely to be hit with the responsibility of working and raising children on their own:

In a 2008 study of black women and their money, the ING Foundation found that black women — who frequently manage the assets of their households — financially support friends, family and their houses of worship to a much greater degree than the general population.

They also are more likely to be employed in jobs and industries — such as service occupations — with lower pay and less access to health insurance. And when their working days are done, they rely most heavily on Social Security because they are less likely to have personal savings, retirement accounts or company pensions. Their Social Security benefits are likely to be lower, too, because of their low earnings.[43]

The poor youth of America are also disproportionately subject to racial exacerbations of their social situations. In America, “more than half of all young adult dropouts are jobless. And dropouts are at greater risk of being incarcerated and having poorer physical and mental health than those who graduate.” Again, the racial disparity emerges, as “[p]oor and minority youths are far less likely to graduate from high school than white children.”

An October 2009 report released by the National Center for Education Statistics says 59.8 percent of blacks, 62.2 percent of Hispanics, and 61.2 percent of American Indians graduated from public high school in four years with a regular diploma in the 2006-2007 school year compared to 79.8 percent for whites and 91.2 percent for Asian and Pacific Islanders. Black and Hispanic dropout rates were more than twice those of white youths.[44]

Many youths then venture into crime to survive. It is here where another racial divide rears its head in a clear example of how Justice is not blind, but sees in technicolour. The incarceration rate, that is, the prison rate of Americans is colour-coded. Black men are incarcerated “at a rate that is over 6 times higher than that for white males.” While black Americans make up 13% of the US population, they make up 40% of the US prison population. Meanwhile, whites make up 66% of the US population, yet only 34% of the prison population. Hispanics make up 15% of the U.S. population, and account for 20% of the prison population.[45]

The poor youth are subject to further insults, as new federally funded drug research revealed a startling and bleak disparity: poor children who are dependent upon Medicaid, a government health program for low-income families, “are given powerful antipsychotic medicines at a rate four times higher than children whose parents have private insurance.” Further, these children, the poor children, “are more likely to receive the drugs for less severe conditions than their middle-class counterparts.” A research team from Rutgers and Columbia posed the question:

Do too many children from poor families receive powerful psychiatric drugs not because they actually need them — but because it is deemed the most efficient and cost-effective way to control problems that may be handled much differently for middle-class children?[46]

The effects are not simply psychological, as “Antipsychotic drugs can also have severe physical side effects, causing drastic weight gain and metabolic changes resulting in lifelong physical problems.” Ultimately, what the research concluded was that, “children with diagnoses of mental or emotional problems in low-income families are more likely to be given drugs than receive family counseling or psychotherapy.”[47]

A study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry revealed that, “Children and youth on certain antipsychotic medications are more prone to getting diabetes and becoming fat,” and that, “the medication has significant and worrying side-effects.”[48] In America, the prescribing of anti-psychotic drugs to children rose five-fold between 1995 and 2002 to roughly 2.5 million.[49]

Thus, we have a situation in which the poor are treated in such a way as to dehumanize them altogether; to deprive them not simply of life’s necessities, but to then use them as guinea pigs and to punish them for their poverty. Hubert Humphrey once said, “A society is ultimately judged by how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable members.” How shall our societies be thus judged?

War and Poverty

It is to our own detriment that we fail to see the relationship between war and poverty both on a national and global level. War is the most violent and oppressive tool used by the powerful to control people and resources. The industry of war profits very few at the expense of the majority; it does not simply impoverish the nation that is attacked, but impoverishes the nation that is attacking.

In April of 1967, one year before Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, he delivered a speech entitled, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” This speech is one of King’s lesser known, yet arguably, one of his most important. While reading the text of the speech does it no justice to the words spoken from King’s mouth in his magnanimous manner, they are worth reading all the same. Dr. King declared that, “A time comes when silence is betrayal. That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.” His words are as significant today as the day they were spoken, and are worth quoting at some length:

Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. [. . . ]

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don’t mix, they say. Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people, they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.

[. . . ] I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettoes of the North over the last three years — especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

[. . . ] In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which now has justified the presence of U.S. military “advisors” in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counter-revolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Colombia and why American napalm and green beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru. It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken — the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

… A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death… The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.[50]

After delivering such a monumental speech against war and empire, King was attacked by the national media; with Life Magazine calling the speech, “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi,” and the Washington Post saying that, “King has diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.”[51]

War is inextricably linked to the impoverishment of people around the world and at home. Inherent within the system of war, racial divides and exploitation are further exacerbated.

In the midst of the economic crisis, military recruitment went up, as the newly unemployed seek job security and an education. A Pentagon official said in October of 2008 that, “We do benefit when things look less positive in civil society,” as “185,000 men and women entered active-duty military service, the highest number since 2003, according to Pentagon statistics. Another 140,000 signed up for duty in the National Guard and reserve.”[52]

In November of 2008, the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) reported that recruitment into the military had increased by over 14% as a result of the economic crisis. Interestingly, “The north of England, where the credit crunch has hit hard, is among the areas where the MoD says recruitment is at its strongest.”[53]

In 2005, it was reported that the Pentagon had developed a database of teenagers 16-18 and all college students “to help the military identify potential recruits in a time of dwindling enlistment.” Further, according to the Washington Post, “The new database will include personal information including birth dates, Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, grade-point averages, ethnicity and what subjects the students are studying.”[54]

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a report in 2008, which revealed that there is a dangerous trend in recruiting youth in the United States. Recruitment of youth 16 and younger is prohibited in the United States, however:

[T]he U.S. armed services regularly target children under 17 for military recruitment.  The U.S. military heavily recruits on high school campuses, targeting students for recruitment as early as possible and generally without limits on the age of students they contact.  Despite a lawsuit challenging its identification of eleventh-grade high school students for recruitment, the Department of Defense’s central recruitment database continues to collect information on 16-year-olds for recruitment purposes.[55]

Various Army programs and recruitment services target students as young as 11, which includes a video game used as a tool for Army recruitment “explicitly marketed to children as young as 13.” Further, “The U.S. military’s recruitment policies, practices, and strategies explicitly target students under 17 for recruitment activities on high school campuses.”[56]

In 2007, prior to the economic crisis, it was reported that, “nearly three quarters of those killed in Iraq came from towns where the per capita income was below the national average.” Further, “More than half came from towns where the percentage of people living in poverty topped the national average.” The war casualties have disproportionately affected rural American towns, which make up the majority of military recruits. Interestingly, between “1997 to 2003, 1.5 million rural workers lost their jobs due to changes in industries like manufacturing that have traditionally employed rural workers.”[57] Now, they make up the majority of war casualties. War and poverty are inherently related in this example: the most impoverished suffer the most in war.

In 2007, it was further reported that more than 30,000 foreign troops are enlisted in the US Army, being recruited to join from foreign nations such as Mexico in return for being granted US citizenship.[58] In 2005, whites made up 80% of Army recruits, while blacks made up 15% of recruits. In 2008, whites made up 79%, while blacks made up 16.5% of Army recruits. However, an interesting statistic is that between 2007 and 2008, there was a 5% increase in the recruit of whites, while over the same period there was nearly a 96% increase in the recruitment of blacks. In 2008, 52% of recruits were under the age of 21. For the fifth year in a row, as of 2008, “youth from low- to middle-income neighborhoods are over-represented among new Army recruits.”[59]

In March of 2008, The Nation published an article entitled “The War and the Working Class,” in which it explained that the American military operated under an “economic draft,” as “Members of the armed forces come mainly and disproportionately from the working class and from small-town and rural America, where opportunities are hard to come by.”[60] This was even before the economic crisis had really started to be noticed in the United States.

In January of 2009 it was reported that, “The Army and each of the other branches of the military are meeting or exceeding their goals for signing up recruits, and attracting more qualified people.”[61] In March of 2009, it was reported that, “Fresh recruits keep pouring into the U.S. military, as concerns about serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are eclipsed by the terrible civilian job market.” All branches of the armed forces “met or exceeded their active duty recruiting goals for January, continuing a trend that began with a decline in the U.S. job market.”

The military acknowledged that weakness in the U.S. economy, which lost 2.6 million jobs in 2008 and another 598,000 in January, has made the armed services more appealing to potential recruits.[62]

It was reported in October of 2009 that due to the economic crisis, “Middle-class American youth are entering the military in significant numbers,” as the Department of Defense announced “that for the first time since the draft ended and the all-volunteer force began 36 years ago, every service branch and reserve component met or exceeded its recruiting goals, both in numbers and quality.” As the economic crisis “resulted in the largest and the swiftest increase in overall unemployment that we’ve ever experienced,” this created a boom for military recruiting.[63]

In December of 2009 it was reported that with a record number of college graduates unable to find work, recruitment soared to record levels, even in the midst of President Obama announcing the deployment of an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. As one commentator put it:

The United States is broken – school systems are deteriorating, the economy is in shambles, homelessness and poverty rates are expanding – yet we’re nation-building in Afghanistan, sending economically distressed young people over there by the tens of thousands at an annual cost of a million dollars each.[64]

In January of 2010 it was reported by the military that many Marines nearing the end of their active duty are reconsidering re-enlisting due to the severe economic situation. According to the U.S. Department of Labor in November of 2009, there were 15.4 million unemployed people in the United States, with the unemployment rate hitting 10%. “Employment fell in construction, manufacturing and information industries, while jobs in temporary help services and health care increased.” Thus, the unemployment figures are somewhat deceiving, as it doesn’t take into account all the people that only rely upon part-time jobs, as “People working part-time jobs for economic reasons numbered 9.2 million. These individuals worked part-time because their hours at another job had been cut back or they were unable to find a full-time job.” Hence, “Marines reenlist for numerous economic reasons.”[65]

In 2007, Obama campaigned on a promise to increase defense spending, and that he wanted the American military to “stay on the offense, from Djibouti to Kandahar,” from Africa to Afghanistan. Obama proclaimed his belief that “the ability to put boots on the ground will be critical in eliminating the shadowy terrorist networks we now face,” and he said that, “no president should ever hesitate to use force — unilaterally if necessary,” not simply to “protect ourselves,” but also to protect America’s “vital interests.”[66]

Sure enough, Obama followed through on those promises. Obama increased defense spending from the previous year. Alone, the United States spends almost as much on its military as the rest of the world combined, including seven times the amount as the next largest defense spender, China.[67]

In October of 2009, Obama signed the largest-ever bill for military spending, amounting to $680 billion. At the same time, he authorized a spending bill of $44 billion for the Department of Homeland Security. A sad irony was that, “Obama signed the record Pentagon budget less than three weeks after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.”[68]

In February of 2010, Obama asked Congress to approve a new record-setting defense budget, at $708 billion.[69] Interestingly, “the Pentagon budget increased for every year of the first decade of the 21st century, an unprecedented run that didn’t even happen in the World War II era, much less during Korea or Vietnam.” Further, “if the government’s current plans are carried out, there will be yearly increases in military spending for at least another decade.”[70]

As Eric Margolis wrote in February of 2010:

Obama’s total military budget is nearly $1 trillion. This includes Pentagon spending of $880 billion. Add secret black programs (about $70 billion); military aid to foreign nations like Egypt, Israel and Pakistan; 225,000 military “contractors” (mercenaries and workers); and veterans’ costs. Add $75 billion (nearly four times Canada’s total defence budget) for 16 intelligence agencies with 200,000 employees.

[. . . ] China and Russia combined spend only a paltry 10% of what the U.S. spends on defence.

There are 750 U.S. military bases in 50 nations and 255,000 service members stationed abroad, 116,000 in Europe, nearly 100,000 in Japan and South Korea.

Military spending gobbles up 19% of federal spending and at least 44% of tax revenues. During the Bush administration, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — funded by borrowing — cost each American family more than $25,000.

Like Bush, Obama is paying for America’s wars through supplemental authorizations ­— putting them on the nation’s already maxed-out credit card. Future generations will be stuck with the bill.[71]

Thus, the American Empire is in decline, spending itself into utter debt and is at the point of “imperial overreach.” As Eric Margolis wrote, “If Obama really were serious about restoring America’s economic health, he would demand military spending be slashed, quickly end the Iraq and Afghan wars and break up the nation’s giant Frankenbanks.”[72]

So, while people at home are on food stamps, welfare, living in tent cities, going to soup kitchens, getting by on debt, and losing their jobs; America sends forces abroad, conducting multiple wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, expanding the war into Pakistan, funding military operations in Yemen, Somalia, Uganda, building massive new military bases in Pakistan and Colombia and providing military aid to governments around the world. As the empire expands, the people become more impoverished.

We cannot afford to ignore the relationship between war, poverty and race. The poor are made to fight the poor; both are often disproportionately people of colour. Yet war enriches the upper class, at least powerful sects of it in industry, the military, oil and banking. In a war economy, death is good for business, poverty is good for society, and power is good for politics. Western nations, particularly the United States, spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year to murder innocent people in far-away impoverished nations, while the people at home suffer the disparities of poverty, class, gender and racial divides. We are told we fight to “spread freedom” and “democracy” around the world; yet, our freedoms and democracy erode and vanish at home. You cannot spread what you do not have. As George Orwell once wrote:

The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous. Hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance. This new version is the past and no different past can ever have existed. In principle the war effort is always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects and its object is not the victory over either Eurasia or East Asia, but to keep the very structure of society intact.

Notes

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

[2]        Ibid, page 150

[3]        Ibid, pages 151-152

[4]        Ibid, pages 152-153

[5]        Ibid, page 153

[6]        Ibid, pages 153-154

[7]        Ibid, pages 154-155

[8]        Ibid, page 155

[9]        ILO, Women in labour markets: Measuring progress and identifying challenges. International Labour Organization, March 2010: pages 20-21

[10]      Jeff Gates, Statistics on Poverty and Inequality. Global Policy Forum: May 1999: http://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/218/46377.html

[11]      Social & Economic Injustice, World Centric, 2004: http://worldcentric.org/conscious-living/social-and-economic-injustice

[12]      Ibid.

[13]      Ibid.

[14]      PRB, PRB’s 2005 World Population Data Sheet Reveals Persisting Global Inequalities in Health and Well-Being. Population Reference Bureau, 2005: http://www.prb.org/Journalists/PressReleases/2005/MoreThanHalftheWorldLivesonLessThan2aDayAugust2005.aspx

[15]      GPF, Press Release: Pioneering Study Shows Richest Own Half World Wealth. Global Policy Forum: December 5, 2006: http://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/218/46555.html

[16]      UN, The Millennium Development Goals Report 2009. United Nations, New York, 2009: page 4

[17]      Ibid.

[18]      G20 Summit: Bank bailout would end global poverty, says Oxfam. The Telegraph: April 1, 2009: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financetopics/g20-summit/5087404/G20-Summit-Bank-bailout-would-end-global-poverty-says-Oxfam.html

[19]      Press Release, 100 people every minute pushed into poverty by economic crisis. Oxfam International: September 24, 2009: http://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressrelease/2009-09-24/100-people-every-minute-pushed-poverty-economic-crisis

[20]      Press Release, Financial crisis to deepen extreme poverty, increase child mortality rates – UN report. UN News Center: March 3, 2009: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=30070

[21]      Josie Raymond, MLK’s Last Goal: Eradicating Poverty. Poverty in America: January 18, 2010: http://uspoverty.change.org/blog/view/mlks_last_goal_eradicating_poverty

[22]      Ibid.

[23]      Jeff Gates, Statistics on Poverty and Inequality. Global Policy Forum: May 1999: http://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/218/46377.html

[24]      Ibid.

[25]      David Cay Johnston, I.R.S. MORE LIKELY TO AUDIT THE POOR AND NOT THE RICH. The New York Times: April 16, 2000: http://www.nytimes.com/2000/04/16/business/irs-more-likely-to-audit-the-poor-and-not-the-rich.html?pagewanted=1

[26]      Danny Westneat, $10 an hour with 2 kids? IRS pounces. Seattle Times: December 6, 2009: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/dannywestneat/2010435946_danny06.html

[27]      Ibid.

[28]      Ibid.

[29]      Phillip Rawls, Study: Alabama Income Tax on Working Poor Harshest. ABC news: November 4, 2009: http://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory?id=8996975

[30]      Robert Gebeloff, Food Stamp Use Soars, and Stigma Fades. The New York Times: November 28, 2009: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/29/us/29foodstamps.html

[31]      Ibid.

[32]      AP, In hard times, tent cities rise across the country. MSNBC: September 18, 2008: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26776283/

[33]      Oliver Burkeman, US tent cities highlight new realities as recession wears on. The Guardian: March 26, 2009: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/mar/26/tent-city-california-recession-economy

[34]      Gregor Peter Schmitz and Gabor Steingart, Crisis Plunges US Middle Class into Poverty. Der Spiegel: April 23, 2009: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,620754,00.html

[35]      Ibid.

[36]      RT, Unemployed New Yorkers find a new home in the woods. Russia Today: February 24, 2010: http://rt.com/Top_News/2010-02-24/homeless-woods-new-york.html

[37]      Ibid.

[38]      V. Dion Haynes, Blacks hit hard by economy’s punch. The New York Times: November 24, 2009: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/23/AR2009112304092.html?hpid=topnews

[39]      Ibid.

[40]      Greg Plotkin, A Quarter of All African Americans Are Hungry. Poverty in America: February 25, 2010: http://uspoverty.change.org/blog/view/a_quarter_of_all_african_americans_are_hungry

[41]      Time Grant, Study finds median wealth for single black women at $5. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: March 9, 2010: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10068/1041225-28.stm

[42]      Ibid.

[43]      Ibid.

[44]      Marian Wright Edelman, Children Drop Out and Into Lives of Poverty and Imprisonment. Poverty in America: January 22, 2010: http://uspoverty.change.org/blog/view/children_drop_out_and_into_lives_of_poverty_and_imprisonment

[45]      Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prison Inmates at Midyear 2008 – Statistical Tables, March 2009 (Revised 4/8/09): http://allotherpersons.wordpress.com/2009/11/03/factoid-black-male-incarceration-rate-is-6-times-greater-than-rate-for-white-males/

[46]      Duff Wilson, Poor Children Likelier to Get Antipsychotics. The New York Times: December 11, 2009: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/12/health/12medicaid.html

[47]      Ibid.

[48]      Kelly Sinoski, Children on antipsychotic drugs more prone to diabetes: Canadian study. The Vancouver Sun: November 11, 2009: http://www.vancouversun.com/health/Children+antipsychotic+drugs+more+prone+diabetes+Canadian+study/2212393/story.html

[49]      AP, Anti-psychotic drug use in kids skyrockets. MSNBC: March 16, 2006: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11861986/

[50]      Rev. Martin Luther King, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. Speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1967, at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City: http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/058.html

[51]      Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon, The Martin Luther King You Don’t See on TV. FAIR: January 4, 1995: http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=2269

[52]      David Morgan, Financial crisis could aid military recruitment. Reuters: October 10, 2008: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE4998WU20081010

[53]      Simon Johnson, Armed Forces enjoy recruitment surge thanks to the credit crunch. The Telegraph: November 30, 2008: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financetopics/financialcrisis/3536738/Armed-forces-enjoy-recruitment-surge-thanks-to-the-credit-crunch.html

[54]      Jonathan Krim, Pentagon Creating Student Database. The Washington Post: June 23, 2005: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/22/AR2005062202305.html

[55]      ACLU, Soldiers of Misfortune. American Civil Liberties Union: May 13, 2008: page 8: http://www.aclu.org/files/pdfs/humanrights/crc_report_20080513.pdf

[56]      Ibid, pages 8-9.

[57]      AP, Rural America bears scars from Iraq war. MSNBC: February 20, 2007: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17231366/

[58]      Cordula Meyer, US Army Lures Foreigners with Promise of Citizenship. Der Spiegel: October 19, 2007: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,512384,00.html

[59]      NPP, Army Recruitment in FY 2008: A Look at Age, Race, Income, and Education of New Soldiers. National Priorities Project, 2008: http://www.nationalpriorities.org/militaryrecruiting2008/a_look_at_race_ethnicity_and_income_of_new_soldiers

[60]      Michael Zweig, The War and the Working Class. The Nation: March 13, 2008: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20080331/zweig

[61]      AP, Bad economy makes for more military recruits. MSNBC: January 19, 2009: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28736832/

[62]      Aaron Smith, Military recruitment surges as jobs disappear. CNN Money: March 16, 2009: http://money.cnn.com/2009/02/10/news/economy/military_recruiting/index.htm

[63]      Tom Philpott, Weak Economy Draws Middle-Class Recruits. Military.com, October 22, 2009: http://www.military.com/features/0,15240,204238,00.html

[64]      Nicholas Kimbrell, US army recruitment booms as economy slumps. The National: December 4, 2009: http://www.thenational.ae/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20091205/FOREIGN/712049812/1135

[65]      Lance Cpl. Antwain J. Graham, U.S. economy makes Marines consider re-enlistment options more seriously. Marines in Japan: January 15, 2010: http://www.okinawa.usmc.mil/Public%20Affairs%20Info/Archive%20News%20Pages/2010/100115-reenlist.html

[66]      Robert Kagan, Obama the Interventionist. The Washington Post: April 29, 2007: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/27/AR2007042702027.html

[67]      Glen Greenwald, The “defense cut” falsehood from The Washington Post and Robert Kagan. Salon: February 3, 2009: http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2009/02/03/kagan

[68]      Patrick Martin, Obama signs bills for record Pentagon, Homeland Security spending. World Socialist Web Site: October 30, 2009: http://www.wsws.org/articles/2009/oct2009/dfns-o30.shtml

[69]      Andrea Shalal-Esa, UPDATE 1-Obama seeks record $708 bln in 2011 defense budget. Reuters: February 1, 2010: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSN0120383520100201?type=marketsNews

[70]      William D. Hartung, Obama and the Permanent War Budget. Foreign Policy in Focus: December 22, 2009: http://www.fpif.org/articles/obama_and_the_permanent_war_budget

[71]      Eric Margolis, Wars sending U.S. into ruin. The Toronto Sun: February 5, 2010: http://www.torontosun.com/comment/columnists/eric_margolis/2010/02/05/12758511-qmi.html

[72]      Ibid.