Building United Front, Surrounded by Enemies: Case Study of the U.$. Housing Market Decline
United Front is the theory of uniting different groups across class lines for a common goal or interest, while maintaining independence where those groups disagree. The application of united front theory is about recognizing different contradictions in society and utilizing them in the interests of the international proletariat. The primary united front is the Anti-Imperialist United Front, which is made up of the majority of the world's people whose material interests lie in defeating imperialism. This is a strategic united front based on the principal contradiction.
In this article we will address a couple of contemporary issues in the United $tates and analyze their potential for united front work. We'll see that many of the big conflicts in a First World country are between the enemy classes, but that does not always mean we sit on the sidelines. Some forms of united front are tactical and require fast action based on thorough knowledge. To successfully navigate the potential for united front in the First World that serves the interests of the Third World proletariat we must first have a correct analysis of our conditions. The first section of this article provides a quick background to get us started.
Land, Housing and the Settler Nation
One of the arguments made against the labor aristocracy thesis is that corporations have no interest in sacrificing profit to pay First World workers more, and there is no corporate conspiracy to enforce such a policy. This is based in the theory of free market capitalism, or only reading the beginning chapters of Marx's Capital and treating that as an accurate model of reality in all places for all time. As a class, capitalists do depend on the labor aristocracy, not just politically, but economically as consumers and cogs in their growing pyramid scheme of finance capital. And there is at least one place where the U.$. imperialists can exert their will as a class (more and more these days) - it's called the U.$. government. The promotion of home ownership by the feds is one of the biggest examples of the imperialists consciously building a labor aristocracy within the heart of the empire.
Home ownership has been a staple of Amerikan wealth since the settlers stole this land from the First Nations and built their homesteads on it. The net worth of Amerikan families compared to First Nations and those descended from slaves in the U.$. is one legacy of this form of primitive accumulation. While land ownership among the earliest European invaders was 100% (that's why they came to the Americas), by the 1775 War of Independence, land ownership was still at 70% for the Euro-Amerikan nation.(1) Arghiri Emmanuel pointed out that Amerikan wages were able to stay so high in this early period of capitalist development, even as land ownership ceased to be universal, because the abundant "free" land stolen from the First Nations provided a fallback plan for European settlers.(2) This primitive accumulation through genocide was the basis for wealth that the Amerikan labor aristocracy enjoyed as industrialization transformed more of the settlers into wage laborers.
Following the inter-imperialist struggles of WWI, the United $tates became the dominant imperialist power. The influx of wealth that came with this allowed for the integration of southern and eastern European immigrants into the white nation leading up to the Great Depression.(1) From 1900 to 1950, home ownership rates in the United $tates averaged about 45%, with the lowest rates in the Black Belt South and the highest in European dominated northwest states.(3) After the economic recovery that came with the spoils of WWII, the United $tates embarked on the suburbanization of Amerika with numerous incentives from the federal government to bring home ownership above 60% again.
Since 1960, home ownership has stayed above 60% for U.$. citizens as a whole.(4) This rate was above 70% for white Amerikans in recent years, but the census does not have comparable statistics by race going back very far. Blacks and Latinos are just under 50% for rates of home ownership, even though national oppression has ensured that they currently face foreclosure disproportionately.
Emmanuel's theories in Unequal Exchange demonstrate how the significantly higher incomes of people in the First World actually transfer wealth to the imperialist countries from the Third World, reinforcing their economic advantage. Similarly, the oppressor nation has equity and is able to increase wealth in ways that the internal semi-colonies have not been able to do despite access to exploiter level jobs. All of this fits with the general trend of capitalism, which is the accumulation of capital. The more you have, the more you tend to get.
Collapse of the U.$. Housing Market
The left wing of white nationalism (whether self-described anarchists, socialists, Maoists or Democrats) has been saying that the increase in home foreclosures is an indication of the heightening contradictions between the Amerikan proletariat and the capitalists. These people defend the stolen land that was the foundation of wealth for settler Amerika, and the modern home ownership pyramid scheme that is the foundation of the Amerikan dream today.
Not only have millions of people lost their homes to foreclosure in recent years, but fear-mongers point out that the “2008 sub-prime mortgage market resulted in the disappearance of $13 trillion in American household wealth between mid-2007 and March 2009... on average, U.S. households lost one quarter of their wealth in that period."(5) Such alarmists ignore that Amerikans gained $10 trillion from 2006 to 2007 to reach an all-time high, and that net worth of the country's citizens has generally gone up at increasing rates since WWII.(6) The bigger ups and downs in all financial markets are certainly signs of crisis, but to act like Amerikans are being sunk to Third World conditions in 2010 is ludicrous. If only these activists would cry so loud for those who really have had to live in Third World conditions for their whole lives and for generations!
Most, if not all, of the loss in Amerikans' net worth is accounted for by stock portfolios and values of homes (which are bought and sold like stocks these days); in other words losses in finance capital. Traditionally, the petty bourgeoisie in Marxism was not exploited, nor did it significantly exploit others. To claim that those who reap profits from investments of finance capital are anything less than petty bourgeoisie is a rejection of Marxist definitions. With home ownership around 68% in recent years, that is a solid two thirds of people in the United $tates who fall squarely into the category of petty bourgeoisie or higher, including 50% of Blacks and Latinos (minimum). This group is 210 million people, or only 3% of the world's population in 2010, yet they hold more net wealth than the total market capitalization of all publicly traded companies in the world.(7)
Our critics point to the great wealth inequalities within the United $tates as reason to organize Amerikans for revolution. So let's just look at the bottom 80% of Amerikans, who owned 15% (a mere scrap from the table if you will) of the net wealth in the United $tates in 2007 (and this was a 15-year low for them).(8) While their share has decreased a few percentage points since 1983, total net worth in the United $tates has increased by almost 5 times. Therefore the lowest 80% of Amerikans went from about $2.2 trillion in net worth in 1983 to almost $10 trillion in 2007. (Two trillion dollars could eliminate world hunger for the next 66 years, until 2076.(9)) "Middle class" Amerika has assets that are greater than the GDP of China,(10) the world's industrial powerhouse representing about 20% of the world's population. That's comparing just the Amerikan "middle class" and "poor" to the whole nation of China, including its well-developed capitalist class.
Since the proletariat, by definition, has negligible net worth in the form of assets, let's look at their income.(11) Income generally increases proportionately with net worth across the globe.(12) Almost half of the world's population lives on less than $1000 per year. That is 3.14 billion people living on less than $3 trillion in a year.(13) Now before we condemn Amerikans' huge assets, let's make sure that they just aren't better at saving and investing their money than the proletariat. In 2005, the wealthiest 20% of the world accounted for 76.6% of total private consumption. The poorest fifty percent accounted for only 7.2% of consumption.(13) A conservative estimate leaves us with Amerikans, on average, consuming at least 27 times the average persyn in the poorest half of the world.(14) So money management skills cannot explain Amerika's huge net worth.
A just, sustainable humyn society requires the Amerikan labor aristocracy to be brought down to consumer levels much closer to the Third World. But this little exercise demonstrates that this is far from happening, despite the alarmists' cries.
Ultimately, the contradiction we're describing is between the labor aristocracy and the imperialists. The imperialists, in particular finance capital, are a dynamic, opportunist class. In contrast, the labor aristocracy benefits from stability of the status quo. The finance capitalists were able to make quick profits by selling the labor aristocracy short, so Amerikans are pissed. While perhaps pushing the labor aristocracy towards fascism, the finance capitalists are also undercutting the consumerism of Amerikans that their system depends on so much. What we are witnessing is an internal contradiction in the imperialist system playing out. Both groups control trillions of dollars in super-profits from the Third World, and the Anti-Imperialist United Front has no interest in one of them getting more than the other. We need to keep sitting this one out.
Migration to the United $tates
As discussed above, high wages and ballooning housing values reinforce themselves in our current economic system, making the rich richer. However, neither could be maintained without erecting a border outside of which these two things cannot flow. Therefore, keeping wages and housing values high is directly linked to the battle over increasing repression of migrant laborers within U.$. borders. The contradiction in this struggle is between oppressed nations who are trying to gain access to jobs in the United $tates and the oppressor nation that is trying to keep them out. This challenge to imperialist country privilege indicates that the battle for migrant rights is part of the anti-imperialist struggle.
While Third World people and some Amerikan youth faced Amerikan labor aristocrats on the streets, it was the U.$. District Court that put in place an injunction on most of the provisions of Arizona's Senate Bill 1070 (SB1070), in light of a lawsuit filed by the U.$. Department of Justice (DOJ) against the state of Arizona. The DOJ held that immigration was under federal jurisdiction, and that they had a plan for the whole country to balance its various interests related to immigration that Arizona would not be allowed to mess up.
The interest of the bourgeois internationalists is in having free access to markets and labor, not to mention international relations. This camp includes the federal government and their finance capitalist backers as well as smaller businesses that only operate in the United $tates, but depend on migrant labor. Their conflict is with other bourgeois interests and the bourgeoisified majority of Amerikans whose position of privilege stems from the elitism of who is allowed to enter their fortress of jewels.
There is effectively a united front between the internationalism of the mass resistance to SB1070 on both sides of the Mexican border and the U.$. government acting on behalf of bourgeois internationalism. And for now, it is the imperialists who are really throwing a wrench in the works for Amerikans, even though the contradiction at its base is between oppressed nations and the oppressor nation.
A majority of Amerikans in a number of polls supported SB1070 or a similar law. The highest percentage listed in one article, 79%, did not agree that "illegal aliens are entitled to the same rights and basic freedoms as U.S. citizens."(15) This is the definition of Amerikan chauvinism. At best, one fifth of U.$. citizens don't think they deserve more than other humyn beings by virtue of being born in the United $tates. This is why we even keep an eye on the imperialists for glimmers of internationalism in the First World.
With Latinos, we can see how quickly this consciousness develops by tracking the percentage of coconuts in the population over time. A Latino Decisions poll found that 12% of second-generation Latino voters in Arizona supported SB1070. By the fourth generation it had increased to 30% supporting the coconut position.(16) Amerikanism is an insidious disease that has claimed significant portions of the internal semi-colonies of the United $tates.
Unite All Who Can Be United
While many dogmatists still criticize Mao for allying the Chinese Communists with the national bourgeoisie, we can take united front theory even further and come up with examples of progressive forces allying with the government of the imperialist superpower of the world against an oppressor nation. This goes to show that we cannot let ultra-left ideas of purity prevent us from allying with those who might help our cause.
The rightist errors in applying united front theory happen when we have incorrect lines elsewhere. Not recognizing a united front as working with an enemy class, or becoming convinced that other contradictions have been resolved, and not just pushed to a secondary position, are the main forms of rightism to guard against. Mao had to fight much rightism from other communists who thought the communists and national bourgeois forces should merge into one, where inevitably the reactionary bourgeoisie would lead because of their relative power. Rightism in the United $tates looks like people getting caught up with legislative battles over migrant rights. Without national liberation, there is no freedom for oppressed nations under imperialism. The imperialists will always oppose that, just as the Nationalists fought the Communists in civil war once the Japanese were forced out.
We do not seek unity for the sake of unity. We seek unity that utilizes all the forces possible to tackle the principal contradiction, or battles that push the principal contradiction forward. When we find strategic unity with others, the united front also provides a basis for unity-criticism-unity, which advances the struggle and deepens the unity of revolutionaries and all oppressed people for a better future.