Of course, there’s a white working class in amerika. Settlers reminds readers of Engels’ point that “there are many working classes” (my emphasis). In world history, a great variety of working classes. The idea that there’s only one kind of working class – exploited, noble, urban and industrial, male-centered, politically class-conscious – is a cardboard abstraction.
That’s why Walter Rodney didn’t like the term, wanted to use “producers” instead. The white working class is a particular kind of working class: one that is an oppressor class, by its very nature wedded to capitalism, and not a proletariat (the proletariat is the lowest, most oppressed class in society).
A working class isn’t primarily determined or shaped by the fact of working for wages. The prison warden works for a wage, after all, while the Afrikan slaves who built amerika on their backs never were wage-laborers. What is determining is the extraction of surplus value. Technically, when we say a class is exploited what we mean is that capitalism extracts surplus value (what becomes profits in the level of the marketplace) from its labor.
For example, no one can deny that there is a Boer white working class in South Africa (at least there is at this writing in 1992 – this is only an example). They exist in the millions, in mines and offices and factories. They are wage-laborers. Yet, as a whole, they produce no (as in zero) surplus value.
Economic studies show that all the surplus value created in South Africa is created by Afrikan labor. The Boer white workers’ wage-labor is merely an indirect mechanism for them to share in the exploiting of Afrikans.
That’s why Afrikan workers live in dusty Soweto and the white working class lives in ranch-style homes with cars, appliances, .357 magnums, swimming pools and cheap Afrikan servants.
They are a working class, alright, but a parasitic one with no real class consciousness and no contribution to make to the liberating of the world.
It isn’t so hard to see that the same thing is true with the white working class in settler amerika (the only working classes anywhere in the world with lifestyles like the Boer workers in South Africa are those here in north amerika). David Gilbert and other white anti-imperialists certainly understand this. And as he warns: “We must guard against the mechanical notion that economic decline will in itself lessen racism… The white workers closest to the level of Third World workers can be the most virulent and violent in fighting for white supremacy.”
These are apt words for the 1990s, when new reformist illusions are being spread at the same time as David Duke and racist skinheads show the renewed appeal of the white Right.
— J. Sakai, comments on “Looking At The White Working Class Historically“.