The Left's Middle-Class Problem
August 1, 2022
In “How Not to Unite a Class,” Felipe Bascuñán claims that Class Unity is insensitive to the different experiences of oppression that the ruling class uses to divide and conquer the working class. Bascuñán’s piece sadly mischaracterizes and shows little engagement with Class Unity’s actual stances and arguments.
Our 2021 DSA convention resolutions on amnesty for undocumented immigrants and universal childcare, as well as our call to discipline rogue DSA representative Jamaal Bowman for his flirtations with Zionism, clearly demonstrate our awareness of and concern for specific demands that would disproportionately benefit certain sections of the working class more directly than others. Where we differ from Bascuñán is that we treat these demands as representing the common interests of the entire working class, as Marxists always have, in contrast to an identitarian liberal framing that insists that “those interests that we all share be treated as belonging to this or that group.” In fact, a universalist approach is the only approach that can conceivably cohere a mass working-class movement capable of addressing the root political-economic causes of racial and other disparities.
For all his talk about how not to unite the working class, Bascuñán seems more interested in proving his own abstract theoretical model correct than in taking seriously the interests and desires of the working class in all its diversity. Consider how he approvingly refers to the calls to defund the police that gained steam in the wake of the George Floyd protests last summer as confirmation that “actual movements against racism tend to have no trouble understanding the deep links between economics and racial disparity.” Not only does Bascuñán seem unaware that cash-strapped police departments are often more lethal than better-funded ones, and that several of the whitest (and poorest) states in the country experience some of the highest rates of police killings — he fails to ask whether the call to defund the police is even supported by the working-class black and brown people activists claim it would benefit the most.
The available evidence suggests this is not the case. Only two months after the protests, a widely-circulated Gallup poll indicated that 81 percent of black people wanted police to spend as much or more time in their area. Since then, we have seen a black former police captain win the mayorship of New York City, with substantial support from black voters, after declaring that the defund movement was being led by “young white affluent people.” More recently, voters in Minneapolis rejected a ballot measure to replace the local police department with a department of public safety and to remove the requirement for a minimum number of officers per resident. Support for the referendum was significantly higher among white liberals than among black voters, only 14 percent of whom wanted to see a reduction in the size of the police force a year and a half after the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd at the hands of former cop Derek Chauvin.
This is not to suggest that proponents of defunding the police do not have legitimate and serious criticisms of policing — they do. And we certainly aren’t claiming that all workers are necessarily leftwing. But a new study provides data to support Class Unity’s belief that the best way to appeal to working-class people of all backgrounds is to focus on bread-and-butter economic issues and frame these in universal terms, rather than attempt to split the difference by cloaking them in the woke rhetoric that is so common among academics and NGO activists and so alienating to the majority of workers without a college degree.