Flattening "The Bell Curve"

Joe Sims, in People's Weekly World,
April, 1995

We are in the midst of a new and unprecedented racist, anti-working class offensive. The scope of the assault is staggering. Its aim is not only to defeat the civil rights gains and the gains of labor won in the period of the New Deal, but to take us back 100 years to the defeat of Reconstruction: the "good old days" of legalized segregation and lynch mobs, 12-hour workdays and no government relief for the poor and unemployed.

Every offensive needs its ideological rationale. Racism is one of the main instruments of this new attack on the working class. The Bell Curve, the book authored by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, is perfectly suited.

There is a tendency among some to see The Bell Curve as just another tract published by some crackpot racists from the right-wing lunatic fringe, and that the controversy will soon disappear.

Unfortunately, this is not so. The Bell Curve, though its arguments are as old as racism itself, represents something quite new.

This book has been given very wide press. Since its publication last fall it has been featured on virtually every radio talk show, many TV shows and in the pages of most magazines and newspapers. Author Charles Murray is featured regularly on Sunday talk shows as a legitimate "expert."

Most of the media commentary treats the book as legitimate, objective and factual scientific inquiry. This is nothing less than an attempt to legitimize crude racism as an acceptable part of the public discourse. And what is even more troubling is that most liberals, though not all, have collapsed and capitulated.

The racist proposals put forward in The Bell Curve are more than just talk. They are increasingly becoming governmental policy. The Republican Contract on America is The Bell Curve in legislative form. One of the main planks in the contract is the so-called Personal Responsibility Act whose intent is clear: eliminate welfare to lower birthrates among African American and Latino women. And it must be said that the only difference between these proposals and the proposals put forward by the Clinton administration is one of degree.

Racism unique and perverse

The full title of this book tells all -- The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in the United States. Its major thesis is that class structure is determined by intelligence or the lack of it. Thus, you are rich because you are smart and you are poor because you are dumb and intelligence is race-related, with people of African descent at the bottom.

The book is designed to influence people who are influenced by racism but who at least believe it is morally wrong. It is written, in the first place, for members of the ruling class, as well as apologists for the ruling class among intellectuals and professionals -- and it is precisely among this section of the population that the book has its greatest support.

The Bell Curve is in the main targeted at African Americans. However, most of the book is devoted to a discussion of class and IQ among whites, basically an attack upon white workers. The Bell Curve is therefore an attack on the entire working class, especially its poorest components. Much of what is said about African Americans and Latinos is done by inference, using the attack on white workers to cover up its deep racism. It is a racism unique and perverse -- a dramatic example of racism's profoundly anti-working class character.

The Bell Curve is not a solo sojourn into Nazi propaganda. It was accompanied last year by two other books: Race, Evolution, and Behavior by J. Phillipe Rushton, and, The Decline of Intelligence in America: A Strategy for National Renewal by Seymour Itzkoff. All three books were given a rave review by the New York Times Review of Books (Oct. 16, 1994), a review which was startling in its racist audacity. A sampling from that review:

"The articulation of issues touching on group intelligence and ethnicity has been neither fashionable nor safe for the last three decades, but these scholars argue that the time has come to grasp the nettle of political heresy, to discard social myths, and to come to grips with statistical evidence . . .

Most people would argue that society is justified in fighting physical disease, but what if we were to carry the war against disease a step farther? Is it wrong to regard a hereditary predisposition to lower intelligence as a kind of genetic disease and to find ways to cure it? . . . Sooner or later however society may have to decide whether human beings have the right -- perhaps the duty -- to strengthen our species' cognitive defenses . . ."

This is a prescription for genocide, unabashedly published by the New York Times. Hardly a word of protest was uttered.

Why now?

Why this new racist offensive, and why now? The basis for it was laid in the 12 years of Reagan and Bush -- 12 years that largely shaped the current economic and political landscape. It was during this period that the current patterns of hyper segregation, large-scale unemployment and contingent labor were initiated. It was also during this reign that the first blows were dealt to affirmative action. And race -- directly, blatantly -- became the main tool for winning presidential elections, when the name Willie Horton became a household word. It was also during this time that we witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union, an event with great political and ideological repercussions, including on the struggle for equality.

At the same time, this period also saw the formation of what we might call the anti-racist or non-racist majority sentiment of the American people. The increase in official racism is in many ways a reaction to this anti-racist sentiment, an attempt by the power structure to reverse it. As Communist Party Chairman Gus Hall has pointed out, the old forms of racism have lost most of their effectiveness -- they needed a new cloak.

Though it has experienced setbacks, this anti-racist majority still exists. It helped elect President Clinton. It elected the largest number of African American, Latino and women members of Congress. It is surely related to the electoral calender: last years' Congressional elections and the upcoming presidential season.

In this regard, it must be said that the presidential campaign began not this spring but last summer with the O.J. Simpson trial. O.J. Simpson is to this election what Willie Horton was to the 1988 Bush campaign. Whatever one may think about Simpson's guilt or innocence, there is no doubt that he has been tried, convicted and lynched in the press and that his trial is being used to promote a racist atmosphere.

We are also in the midst of an unprecedented attack on affirmative action. This year the Supreme Court has already heard one case involving set-asides for minority-owned firms. It will hear two more in April, one involving set-asides and the other a challenge to majority Black districts created under the 1991 Civil Rights Act. With the current makeup of Congress, the waffling of the president and the anti-affirmative action ballot proposition in California, affirmative action is in danger.

An ugly future envisioned

The more long-term goal of this racist offensive is to prepare the ground for what can be called "capitalism without entitlements." The Bell Curve is the ideological justification for this. It argues that inequality is the result of genetic inferiority and nothing can be done about it.

The bottom line here is the drive for maximum corporate profit and how U.S. capitalism views itself entering the 21st century. The future envisioned is not a pretty one. It is a future in which all labor has no rights that capital is bound to respect. It is a future of no unions, no permanent jobs and no social safety net. It is a future with an increased separation of manual and intellectual labor, in which "brain workers" will be intellectual storm troopers of monopoly capital, tied together by color of skin and class. And it is a future in which this social division of labor will be exported and imposed on the world. In this regard, U.S. imperialism is preparing to launch a new offensive against Africa and the rest of the Third World.

"Everyone in their place'

The Bell Curve is a direct challenge to the concept of human equality. Inequality is said to be immutable and determined by heredity. The struggle for equality has, they say, raised expectations impossibly beyond any hope for their realization.

The authors have refashioned and updated an old concept -- that everyone has a "valued place" in society, determined by natural ability and gift. The "valued place" of those with high intelligence is in the university and the corporate boardroom where they are content and happy. The place of "lower breeds" is on the farm picking cotton, in the laundry room ironing or in front of a blast furnace in some steel mini-mill.

In challenging the concept of human equality, The Bell Curve is an ideological blow directed at Marxism-Leninism and the Communist movement, and socialism as a whole. The ideological generals of the right wing admit as much. Here are two examples. Pat Buchanan: "I think a lot of the data [in The Bell Curve] is indisputable . . . It does shoot a hole straight through the heart of egalitarian socialism which tried to create equality of result by coercive government programs." Michael Barone: "The implication of their argument is, if they're right, that we really should not engage in a lot of government social engineering to create equal outcomes and so forth."

While this attack by the ruling class is unprecedented, so too is the opportunity for fightback and struggle. The working class and people's forces have the potential for more strength in our united action than has ever been seen.

The gains in civil and labor rights they are trying to reverse have built a powerful legacy. Despite the hard hits labor has taken, there are some 15 million workers organized into unions, with a growing and more militant left. There are 8,000 Black elected officials nationwide, as well as Latinos and women. The Congressional Black Caucus, Latino Caucus and Progressive Caucus wield significant power in Congress. The organizations of the African American people, Latinos, women, seniors and youth are a formidable force. There are important people's movements in defense of the environment, the rights of children, family farmers and social programs.

Everyone represented by these organizations -- and that means the great majority-- stands to lose from the Contract on America. United together and mobilized, this constitutes a powerful force. That combination is what it will take to defeat the Contract on America and usher in a future of peace, equality and economic justice.

Joe Sims is a member of the national board of the Communist Party USA and editor of its theoretical journal, Political Affairs.

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