A recent expose in The New York Times documenting how U.S. corporations exploit migrant children sheds light on a crucial issue facing the American Left. Nowadays, many activists on the Left rightly focus on identity politics. To them, diversity is the order of the day. No argument here. Richard Penniman said it succinctly: diversity is a beautiful bouquet of flowers. But the celebration of differences oftentimes ignores what holds us together, what we have in common. The Times article makes clear what that is: It’s about class, the economic subjugation and oppression of the vulnerable.
Just look at what these vulnerable and desperate children are up against. Driven by extreme poverty that’s exacerbated by climate change, a by-product of capitalist consumer driven production, migrant children from Central America, separated from their parents, cross the US border by the tens of thousands . Out of desperation, many are sucked into the maw of the worst labor abuses perpetrated by American business. According to a recent report in the New York Times, food giants such as Hearthside Food Solutions lure these kids into the country’s most dangerous jobs. Suffering endless workdays and worknights, they are forced to meet the high-pressure speed-up routines demanded by corporate America’s incessant need for profit. Deadening fatigue and exhaustion, illness, and injuries abound. One young woman had her scalp ripped apart by a machine. The U.S. Labor Department counts at least 12 child workers killed at their jobs since 2017. Then there’s the emotional toll of family separation, loneliness, fear, and the ruinous effect of being denied an education. Undoubtedly some of these teens identify as Nicaraguans or Guatemalans, many as straight, gay lesbian or bi. Culturally they form a rich diversity of difference. Each is a unique living example of Kimberle Crenshaw’s valuable concept of intersectionality, the idea that each of us is a composite of the multiple identities that our heritage, place and experience make of us. But their shared experience of economic oppression and abuse illustrates that the key nexus is economic desperation and capital’s need to exploit it. These very young children find themselves at the unavoidable intersection of capitalism and class.
“The first premise of all human history,” Marx insisted, “is the existence of living human individuals.” The shared horror these children experience demonstrates unequivocally how that relentless drive to exist is conditioned by their absolute dependence on the basic need to work, under any conditions they can find, no matter how bad. Driven north by economic desperation, borders mean nothing to these kids. And why should they? As Canadian activist Harsha Walia declares in her recent book, Border and Rule, “the borders of today are completely bound up in the violences of dispossession, accumulation, exploitation”, and their intersection “with race, caste, gender, sexuality, and ability,” a global dispossession that has fired the engines of capital since the 16th century. The horrors of child labor that Marx excoriated 160 years ago remain part and parcel of a system that sniffs every chance to eke out the last ounce of unpaid labor from the most vulnerable humans on the planet.
In a truly humane and democratic world, diversity and difference would surely reign. But in this ugly real world where teenage lives from so many different places are stunted, injured, and destroyed, isn’t it clear the one overarching reality that most threatens the very human need to exist, to live, is the defeat of class consciousness? Class is the relentless reality that compels people to live by serving the extortionate terms of capital, no matter where they come from, how young or old they are or how they “identify” as unique human beings. The only way that reality will change is when working people recognize and challenge class as the commonality of their oppression. Democratic power comes from unity, division is its nemesis. The Roman imperialists understood the counter-power of division. They called the strategy divide et impera, divide and rule. When will the American Left finally stop playing the Romans’ game?The post Class and Diversity in the Left first appeared on Dissident Voice.
This content originally appeared on Dissident Voice and was authored by Bill Scheuerman and Sid Plotkin.