Monday, June 29, 2015

Charlie Daniels has other options. He can influence people.

It less about what this means to you Charlie than what it means to others
by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I don’t know too much about Charlie Daniels, but I do like his music. I know he’s from the South and proud of it.   Mr. Daniels has weighed in on the controversy around the Confederate Flag, the Southern Cross) in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on a black church in Charleston South Carolina that killed nine people.

I think Mr. Daniels makes some important points in his column and would like to offer my own thoughts on it. I think he is speaking from his heart and being completely honest when he writes, “The Confederate battle flag was a sign of defiance, a sign of pride, a declaration of a geographical area that you were proud to be from. That’s all it is to me and all it has ever been to me.”  (My added emphasis). But he is not thinking about this in depth.

This controversy is not about what the flag means to Charlie Daniels and perhaps many working class people from the South whose ancestors fled poverty and oppression in Europe. It's about a bankrupt racist, terrorist regime. The Irish, Scots, Germans that came and settled there were more likely escaping poverty themselves, driven from their lands that they loved. The Southern plantation owners needed labor and that labor came from both Africa and Europe and the chief industry was agriculture, producing commodities like cotton, sugar and tobacco.

Ultimately, the wealth of the planter class rested primarily on the backs of chattel slavery, and the chattel slavery of people with black skin, people of African descent. In this system, a human being with black or dark skin was owned in total and received no wages for their labor power. The Confederacy fought to maintain this system. And we must not forget that Abraham Lincoln had no interest in freeing the slaves in states that rejected secession. In his inaugural Address in 1861 he assured the Southern Slave owners that he had no intention of interfering with their right to own slaves, “I have neither the power nor the desire to do so” he assured them.* The issue for him was secession, and maintaining the Union. This was a struggle between two ruling classes atop two different systems of production, the Industrial capitalists of the North freed from the restraints as former colonists, and the Slave owners of the South. It was the war to unify the nation state which is an aspect of all emerging capitalist nations.

Many northern capitalists saw that they could not compete with a system that paid its workers no wages and many workers couldn’t either.  In the North, workers were free in the sense that they could sell their labor power to the owners of capitalists as technically they owned it, they were free. The southern black worker didn’t even own their own labor power. 

There were rebellions in early US history where the poor and oppressed of all races and backgrounds united against their exploitation. This was a huge threat to the planter class. So, in order to maintain this system and undermine opposition to it, the Southern ruling class, Europeans with white skin, conferred on all other white people, similar privileges that their power and position as a ruling class gave them.  They created this idea that there is a white race. No person of color could testify against a white man for example. The British had similar laws in countries they colonized like Ireland and China.

If a white man raped a female slave, even the poorest of poor whites and there were many poor whites, it was not a crime like a felony for example, but a “mere trespass on a master’s property” The Georgia Supreme Court ruled in 1851 that the killing of a “negro” was also not a felony but damaging an owner’s property for which they should receive compensation. ** If a Southerner, accompanied by a slave he owned traveled to a Northern state where slavery was illegal he demanded the right to do so as no person should have his property confiscated by another state. This is states’ rights expressed. This is the system that the forces symbolized by the Confederate Flag fought a war for.  For more information about these events also check out, The Developing Conjuncture on Jeffrey B Perry's website.

So despite the privileges with regard to the black population that the white ruling class had conferred on all white people, not all white skinned Europeans were the same with regard to social status. The term “White Trash” most likely originated among the white elite who wanted to make sure they weren’t associated with the poor whites, and became fashionable among some sections of the black population able to look down on people who were somewhat worse off than them. But even to this section of the white population, having white skin gave them rights above the most prestigious black member of a community.

Mr Daniels, like many writers have in defense of the flag, is basically saying that it is part of his Southern heritage.  I am not familiar with Mr. Daniel’s class background, I assume he’s not from one of those ancestral Southern families that owned plantations. But I would argue it is not a part of a Southern working class person’s heritage and he should reject it for what it is, a symbol of slavery, class oppression, white supremacy and violence. Had the system that this symbol represents won the Civil War, white workers would have been denied democratic rights, trade unions, suffrage etc.

Having fond memories and close ties for places we grew up, is not the same as worshiping a national heritage that also has extremely oppressive, racist and violent aspects to it. I don't worship British colonialism. I have to admit that I didn’t separate these different histories adequately growing up.  I was, as are most of us, somewhat conditioned by nationalism. Even though I was raised as a Catholic and am of Irish ancestry, I never felt Irish in any way and although going to Catholic schools where many a lay Irish teacher as well as nuns taught, I don’t recall the history of the British occupation of Ireland being described in depth. Being culturally English I could not see the vicious role of English/British capitalism there, nor in the colonies that followed, my nationalist sentiment wouldn’t allow it; I had to break from this national identity linked with British capitalism. The idea that a system based on class exploitation and the nation in which it operates is “one nation undivided” is a con game.

I have strong feelings about the place where I grew up. I love the beauty of the English village that has changed little in 1000 years despite being one of the millions of people who couldn’t afford to live in one.  I miss the pub life, the social institution that was in many small towns and villages the center of social life when I was young. I love London, that great old city where the Romans first erected a bridge over the Thames more than 2000 years ago.  I love its cosmopolitan character and that some 50% of its residents are foreign born, I’m proud of that not afraid of it. I am grateful to my Indian friends here in the US who suffered such nasty racial prejudice when they first came to England’s shores and who are now my link to back home. They have helped liberate me to an extent. I have no fondness and I won't defend the way British society treated the Irish,  Indians and the immigrants that came from other colonial possessions of British capitalism.

As for the Queen and her offspring, they can go get a job.  I had a natural dislike of the rural landowners and remnants of aristocratic rule and didn’t worship the entrepreneur or shipping magnate as someone whose position I should strive for, even those of us with limited class consciousness knew well enough that they weren’t our friends. I am proud of the miners that fought that pig Thatcher. And I am proud that I once belonged to an organization that contributed to her downfall. This is my history.
I came to appreciate and love the history of my own class and reject the “official” history of those whose ancestors sent children and whole families in to the belly of the earth to dig coal and built financial empires through plunder and violence; people who were “English” like me; people with white skin. Queen Victoria was made Empress of India by the British parliament, unfortunately the Indian people had no say in that.  When I visited Iraq as a young man in the early 1970’s I made it clear to the Iraq’s I met that I may look like those who came and occupied their lands, I drink tea like the Queen and speak the same language, (with a different class accent) but the similarity ends there, they are not my people. I can speak of the beauty of England and what Britain means to me without identifying with the sons and daughters of Harrow or Eton who are more often the face of a nation like Cheney, Bush, Obama or Clinton are here---representatives of the 1%.  The British working class has, like the American, the Irish or the workers of any state, a rich, vibrant history.

So Mr. Daniels can have strong feelings for his Southern home, the land and environment that nurtured him. But he should reject the heritage and culture of the class that ruled it and continues to do so. And he should recognize that due to being offered certain privileges as white skinned people, the Southern white worker has played the most reactionary role. The Christianity practiced there as well as the role of trade union leaders in the US contributed to this reactionary nature.  

The other side of it that we are all products of our time and we could all be said to be guilty of apathy in the face of injustice. The US capitalist class and its government is the most violent and destabilizing force on earth. Its actions are the source of anti-American feeling. It has killed millions of people throughout the Middle East and at least three million in Vietnam, a people (the list is long) a population on which it sprayed the poisonous substance Dioxin in the form of Agent Orange. Who knows who they drugged, hooded, and sent to Guantanamo? Americans en mass distrust their government. Yet so many of us go about our business day to day fearful to question in case we are forced to engage in the struggle to change things. Or with some, blinded by religious fervor, the chief component of uncritical thinking. 

People fear the costs, job losses, isolation, slander.  I’m not making excuses for apathy that might exist now, nor for white silence in the South, but the price for whites standing in unity with blacks against the slaveocracy and the Jim Crow terrorism that followed Reconstruction  was high as Lerone Bennett points out in his book, The Shaping of Black America:

“The whole system of separation and subordination rested on official state terror. The exigencies of the situation required men to kill some white people to keep them white and to kill many blacks to keep them black.  In the North and South, men and women were maimed, tortured, and murdered in a comprehensive campaign of mass conditioning. The severed heads of black and white rebels were impaled on poles along the road as warnings to black people and white people, and opponents of the status quo were starved to death in chains and roasted slowly over open fires.  Some rebels were branded others were castrated. The exemplary cruelty, which was carried out as a deliberate process of mass education, was an inherent part of the new system.” CH. 3 P74

This is the Southern heritage the flag represents.  John Brown, although not a Southerner, is the heritage we should all be proud of. The right side won the Civil War.

I also sympathize strongly with Mr. Daniels’ criticism of these corporations who have now come out against the flag. The power behind them cares nothing about black or white workers and their traditions, their motivation is purely profits; it's a business decision. Does Mr. Daniels realize that the same motivation drive the US wars in the Middle East and its support for the Apartheid Zionist regime.

Mr. Daniels also spoke of the nasty way that southerners are portrayed in the mass media and US society as a whole. I agree with this criticism and condemn it. He writes that the “South was looked upon by what seemed to be a majority of the Northern States as an inbred, backward, uneducated, slow-talking and slower-thinking people, with low morals and a propensity for incest.”

This is how the English ruling class characterized the Irish and their own working class as well. It is not the Southern aristocratic ruling class that is portrayed this way, it is workers and the poor. Things can be said and jokes can be told about southern white workers and poor people in the mass media that would cause a national furor if they were said about Jews or blacks. I met a guy recently and found out he was from the South. I couldn’t tell and asked him where that lovely accent was. He told me that he got rid of it when he got to California because people assumed he was a racist and stupid.  That’s oppression.

However, I dismiss Mr. Daniel’s references to Satan and God and the implication that Roof’s action was in some way caused by the balance of power between these two dueling forces.  And the championing of good Christian Southern folk doesn’t hold much water either as the white skinned European Christian American population were anything but an ally of their black Christian “brothers” during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 60’s. Many of them, most perhaps, were on the side of those who supported separatism and the white skinned privilege conferred on them by the Southern white ruling class.  This evangelical Christian mythology is one of the fundamental obstacles to understanding the world as it really is.

I would ask Charlie Daniels that he should include in his love of his Southern Heritage the rise of the Civil Rights Movement and his Southern black brothers and sisters heroic centuries old struggle against racial oppression and violence that the Confederate Flag represents. It helped to liberate those with white faces also.

And finally he writes, The bottom line is that the flag in question represents one thing to some people and another thing to others.”

It does indeed, and Charlie has to make a choice; with which “others” he stands?

* Quoted in British Labor and the American Civil War, p 25 by Eric Foner

** Theodore Allen The Invention of the White Race pages 46 and 47.

No comments: