Sunday, March 25, 2007

Southern Non-Sequitur

South-bashing is definitely in fashion in progressive circles these days, but a recent Matt Stoller post at MyDD takes it to a whole new level. Turns out, according to Matt, that the South is responsible not only for what he considers to be the excesses of Cold War politics, but for the labor movement's support of same.

Here's Stoller's tortured logic, at some length:

The roots of this [national security] state are traceable directly to an authoritarian South, a one-party unique region in America that has held the balance of power since the 1930s and that was and is dedicated above all to a race-based hierarchical society. Through shaping even progressive legislation, like the Wagner Act, Dixiecrats ensured that broad-based class movements failed. It's not widely-understood, but the reason the South flipped to an anti-labor stance in the 1940s is because the CIO had tremendous success in organizing multi-racial unions as World War II labor markets tightened. This was a direct threat to Jim Crow, and so Southern Democrats cooperated with Republicans to pass Taft-Hartley, a piece of legislation which basically made labor organizing impossible and turned unions into groups that can only advocate for their own survival. At the same time, there were massive pre-McCarthy purges of leftists and decertifications of leftists unions, leaving unions open to infiltration by the CIA, FBI, organized crime, and bureaucratic inertia. The biggest movement for social justice in American history - the labor movement of the 1930s - ran up against the South, and the South turned it into a pro-Vietnam reactionary force that rejected the New Left in the 1960s.

Wow. This is some serious logic-jumping. The anti-communist orientation of the U.S. labor movement from the 1950s on was in fact rooted in its own traditions, dating back to the rejection of socialism by the AFL before and after the turn of the twentieth century. And the CIO went to great lengths to disassociate itself from its few pro-Moscow affiliates, before, during and after the failure of its efforts to unionize Dixie. Taft-Hartley did indeed negatively affect the labor movement, but not that much initially: the rapid decline in union representation of the work force really started happening in the 1970s.

As for the idea that a southern-dictated "reactionary" union posture led to the rejection of the New Left--well, that's just not true. Aside from the longstanding and principled anti-communism of the labor movement, there wasn't much about the New Left that was attractive to organized working folks. The cultural attitudes of most New Leftists were anethema to union members and activists. And the New Left's characteristic belief that upper- and middle-class students and intellectuals represented a new proletariat was offensive to almost all labor activists, including serious socialists.

These are fundamental issues that have nothing much to do with the South. Indeed, if the South had never existed, the U.S. labor movement would have, for its own reasons, still been anti-communist and culturally moderate if not conservative. Attributing the distinctive positions of the labor movement to the region where it had almost no influence is a strange non-sequitur. And wrong.
-- Posted at 7:53 PM | Link to this post | Email this post

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