Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Richard Seymour on Southern Racism and Capitalism



Richard said...

a good post by him, and here is my response, based upon my first hand experience growing up in Georgia during the later part of the period addressed by Seymour:

[All in all, an excellent post, especially in regard to the relationship between anti-communism, but, as someone who grew in the South during this period, here is my perspective: First, as alluded to by Henry Monro, what distinguishes a "Southern capitalist" from a northern one? It is a pertinent question, because, during my childhood in central Georgia in the 1960s, I saw a number of industrial enterprises that were clearly national as opposed to regional in nature, such as, for example, the large Ford Motor plant just south of Atlanta, the emergent aerospace industry in the north Atlanta suburb of Marietta and the railroads that went through Chattanooga, Dalton and Atlanta, moving goods north and south. Aerospace and defense contracting were the third leg of the South's industrial development during the period that you mention, initiated by the New Deal policies of Roosevelt. If there is one thing that is markedly absent from your post, it is the role of Roosevelt and the New Deal in terms of bringing cutting edge technology work to the South in the form of military Keynesianism. Capital for these enterprises, as well as the ones that you mentioned, oil and textiles, had no boundary.

Any distinction between southern and northern capitalists must rest, in my view, upon a relationship between the two that predates the existence of the US, to the triangular trade between the northeast, Virginia and the Carolinas and the Caribbean as well as Asia, as chronicled by many, including Robin Blackburn in "The Making of New World Slavery". In other words, there was a sometimes conflict between the two (the Civil War) and sometimes cooperation (the expansion of the railroads and the emergence of low wage production in the South in textiles). Ultimately, southern economic development was predominately determined by the north, beginning with the insistence during Reconstruction that the new, post-slavery constitutions of southern states accept not only the 14th amendment but the inclusion of corporations within the definition of a person. Southern politicians demagogically exploited this economic imbalance for decades, most perversely when they called upon this historic sense of grievance to resist civil rights. By the way, the emphasis upon oil as equivalent to textiles in the South is interesting, geographically, this is not the case, as oil exploration and refineries were concentrated primarily in Texas and Louisiana, but, in terms of concentration of capital, it might well be correct. . . . (con't)

Richard said...


In terms of providing economic advancement to middle and upper middle class whites, aerospace was huge (NASA in Houston, Cape Canaveral in Florida, defense contractors throughout), but it is easy to ignore the importance of highway construction, especially the Interstate highway system that was completed in the early 1970s. I still remember traveling along the final stretches of Interstate 75 that were completed around that time, connecting Dalton to Chattanooga and Atlanta to Macon. Both provided professional job opportunities for white graduates of schools like Georgia Tech. Even now, engineering is a highly regarded field there. The oil industry no doubt served a similar purpose in Texas and Louisiana.

If anything, your post underestimates how segregation was used to perpetuate this economic order. While the status of lower income whites comes across poorly by reference to economic data, the expenditure of public funds at the local level disproportionately benefitted them in comparison to African Americans. There was an older African American women who took care of me in the mid to late 1960s while my mother worked as a teletypist at the local newspaper, the Macon Telegraph. We certainly weren't wealthy, but the contrast between our lives and the lives of this woman and her family were striking. When we visited her neighborhood, we left paved roads for dirt ones and there was above ground sewage runoff. The overall orientation towards the public sector by wealthy southerners may have been hostile, but, to the extent that it existed, it was used to bind lower middle income and lower income whites to their social vision.]

t said...

Interesting to hear your personal perspective on these matters. I've got a lot I need to think about here- and this is certainly an issue worth thinking about more deeply.