Wednesday, January 19, 2011
First of all, the two major growth industries in the South in the period 1945-65 are the textile and oil industries. These are also among the most segregated, though in different ways. In textiles, segregation was mainly felt through exclusion, as African Americans tended to be hired for low-key menial labour, away from the shop floor where possible. In the oil industry, it was expressed through different payrolls, in which black workers were denied access to more skilled, better remunerated work. In response to Title VII (1964 Civil Rights Act) suits, employers sought to re-code these forms of discrimination as meritocratic, following market logic.
While the Southern oil industry was internationally oriented, and thus tended to export its labour structures, the textile industry tended to be more regionalised and when it did grow it sought to do so while maintaining local managerial control of the labour system. Similarly, while the oil industry was susceptible to national political pressure, because most of its contracts were with the federal government, the textile industry was far more capable of resisting such pressure. Lastly, there was a status differential in the two industries. White workers in oil were better educated and well-paid, while in the textile industry they tended to be refugees from failing farms, were poorly educated and had low status.
In both industries, white supremacy was complementary to the strategy of paternalism. The bosses, by providing amenities and services for their white workers, also exerted a degree of influence and control over their lives, promoting a kind of folkish cross-class solidarity that undercut unionisation and contributed to the failure of the CIO's organising drive, Operation Dixie. Black workers' lives were controlled but less intimately regulated by the bosses, and thus they tended to be a lot more open to unionism. That, alongside an exaggerated fear of communist influence in the CIO unions, was used to arouse hostility toward unionism among white workers.
The textile industry's racially exclusive practises tell against the expectations of split market theorists, in which employers would be expected to source the cheapest labour, and thus to employ more African American workers. Given that employers were not compelled by law, except in Southern Carolina, to impose segregation in the same way that restaurants, schools and public transport were, one obvious conclusion would be that these employers believed in the racial system on grounds besides those of efficient capital accumulation. But while is true, it cannot be disarticulated from the wider effort by capital to suppress and contain the labour rebellions that had swept the South first in the period from, and then in the 1930s. Incorporating white labour was a key strategy for capital as a whole, and it was by far preferable to those systems of welfare and social democracy which obtained in Europe.
This was a real terror among the Southern capitalists. The Southern States Industrial Council (SSIC) represented a broad cross-section of that class, formed precisely in response to the labour rebellions of the early 1930s, the better to devise appropriate political and managerial responses. Its research director and prolific writer, Thurman Sensing, visited the UK in 1950 to get a sense of how 'socialism' was working out in Britain, and reported to his fellow industrialists that things were as bleak as could be - diets worse than in the wartime, than in Germany even, unproductive industry, nationalised utilities running up deficits, crippling rates of taxation, and a free NHS that left hospitals crowded and doctors overworked. Indeed, such was the absurd state of British socialism that in addition to free medicine, the people could expect "free wigs, free hot bottles, free corsets for the ladies even. If her doctor will certify that it's for her health and well-being, an English lady can get a free corset". This appalling state of affairs was in stark contrast to the South's can-do bootstrap-pulling after its defeat in the Civil War, where people never dreamed of going communist despite their immense poverty, but rallied all the more fervently to free enterprise.
Indeed, the SSIC consistently positioned itself as a beacon of 'free enterprise', of true Americanism. It tended to avoid taking an explicit position on race matters, beyond opposing "civil rights propaganda" and declaring that the issue was a "temporary and typical national vagary". In part, this was because some sections of southern industry and finance were sympathetic to Northern Republicanism, conservative and racist but uninterested in explicit supremacism a la the White Citizens' Council. There was strong support among some layers of capital for the more 'pragmatic segregationism' of politicians like Mississippi's JP Coleman, which sought to conserve the basic racial structure without provoking a social conflict or wasting energy on a futile battle with the federal government.
Among the SSIC's lesser known products was its one time vice president Anthony Hart Harrigan, a conservative 'free market' activist who did much to promote the ideas of Milton Friedman and connect different elements of the American right in a broad coalition against the Keyenesian consensus. His blend of 'free market' conservatism, Cold War anticommunism and 'practical segregationism' - wherein he consistently extolled the southern way of life, linking its conservatism and racial hierarchy with free market cosmopolitanism in a key National Review article in 1958 - was typical of a major pole in the SSIC.
Thus, the SSIC's attacks were focused primarily against the 'socialists', the 'liberals', and the 'welfare staters'. Other sectors of business, such as smaller agrarian capitalists represented by bodies such as the National Cotton Council, the American Sugar Cane League, the Peanut Growers Association, the Peanut Shellers Associations, the Tobacco Growers Associations and industry journals like 'The Farm and Ranch', were just as explicitly hostile to socialism, were not altogether fond of 'Big Business', but reserved their greatest contempt for big government, big spending and most especially 'Big Labor'. In practise, small agrarian capital was heavily dependent on big government in the form of federal subsidies and quotas, so that the commitment to 'free enterprise' mainly took the form of opposition to unions driving up the wage bill.
Anticommunism helped bind the different fractions of capital in the Southern states together in a shared political project, so that differences over the handling of race and the civil rights challenge were subsumed into a broader hostility to federal government intervention and unionism. Anticommunism also overcame the cleavage between the dying 'isolationists' of the Old Right and the aggressive Cold Warriors of the New Right, the latter represented most vociferously in the National Review. The 'isolationists' were not, it should be said, in any sense 'anti-imperialist'. They supported the colonial powers, and tended to cite the 'chaos' of post-colonial rule to justify their Jim Crow structures.
But empire was most problematic in situations where imperialism might involve the extension of institutions of self-rule to races deemed 'unfit' for it. Just as some segregationists had opposed imperialism in the Philippines on the grounds that it would logically lead to the Philippines being ruled as US territory and thus subject to the bill of rights and the constitution, the incorporation of Hawaii and Alaska into the US was opposed for bringing non-white people into the polity and thus risking "mongrelization". Indeed, the campaign against Hawaii's annexation spread well beyond the 'isolationists'. The SSIC, the southern Democratic leadership, and a number of mainstream right-wing organisations campaigned against annexation on the grounds that it would create an "Asiatic state" in America. Opponents of annexation also mobilised anticommunist fears, tying their belief that "Asiatics" were predisposed to despotic forms of government with the claim that communists already effectively ruled in Hawaii, and that the ILWU leadership ran the place like a dictatorship.
There was also unity on wider dissatisfaction with some of the institutions of Cold War liberal internationalism. The SSIC was not isolationist. It was supportive of the anticommunist struggle in Korea and Vietnam, and vociferously joined the attacks Senator Fulbright who supported peaceful coexistence with the USSR, and who had written a memo attacking the military elite's conniving with the far right to produce a more reactionary , and calling for the military to be forced to accept civilian control. But it vehemently opposed other aspects of US imperial stategy, such as the Marshall Plan for Europe. It also favoured withdrawal from the UN, and engaged in some of the more febrile scaremongering about UNESCO attempting to "destroy the patriotism and influence the homes in the lives of American youth", due to its campaign for equality in education. The SSIC would also throw its weight behind a conservative campaign against Nixonian overtures to the PRC.
Post-segregation, it was southern industrialists and their political allies who would be decisive in leading a New Right to power, defeating the old Keynesian class compromise. Uncovering the intersection between specific regional patterns of capital accumulation and differing global orientations of various southern capital fractions would help account for the stances taken by businesses and their right-wing allies on domestic Jim Crow structures, the integration (or not) of labour unions, and the global struggle against communism. It would also help explain the peculiar intensity of what Joel Kovel calls 'black hole' anticommunism in the South ('black hole' because everything that is not aggressively American and free market is crushed into a single communist entity), and its role in conserving segregation.