Why Is There No Socialism in the United States? Law and the Racial Divide in the American Working Class, 1676-1964
36 Pages Posted: 10 Mar 2016 Last revised: 7 Aug 2016
Date Written: July 2016
The gap between rich and poor in the United States yawns wider than in any other first-wave industrialized country. Why? One influential explanation points to the historic failure of American workers to build a class-wide movement for economic redistribution and social welfare protections. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the working classes of Europe were building durable and resilient socialist movements, the American working class was hopelessly split along racial lines. Many analysts today blame white workers for this divide. So racist are white workers, it is said, that they have repeatedly chosen to forego the economic benefits of cross-racial working-class solidarity in order to enjoy the psychological satisfaction of lording it over people of color. This article, written for a symposium on the Constitution and economic inequality, suggests that white workers did not make their choices on neutral terrain. Elites used law to disrupt and discourage cross-racial cooperation. Law played an especially decisive role in two periods: one following Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676, when law constituted white laborers as a control stratum over both enslaved and free blacks, and one during and after Reconstruction, when the Supreme Court immunized white supremacist paramilitary insurgents against federal law enforcement.
Keywords: Constitutional Law, Race, Class, Economic Inequality, Reconstruction
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