The Producerist Narrative in
Repressive Right Wing Populism
Charts 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8
Guilford Press - Forthcoming, 2000
Calls to rally the virtuous "producing classes" against evil "parasites" at
both the top and bottom of society is a tendency called producerism.
It is a conspiracist narrative used by
repressive right wing populism. Today we
see examples of it in some sectors of the Christian Right, in the Patriot
movements and armed militias, and in the Far right. (see
chart of US right). Producerism is involved in the relationship between Buchanan,
Fulani, Perot, and the Reform Party.
Producerism begins in the US with the Jacksonians, who wove together
intra-elite factionalism and lower-class Whites’ double-edged resentments.
Producerism became a staple of repressive populist ideology. Producerism
sought to rally the middle strata together with certain sections of the
elite. Specifically, it championed the so-called producing classes (including
White farmers, laborers, artisans, slaveowning planters, and “productive” capitalists)
against “unproductive” bankers, speculators, and monopolists above—and
people of color below. After the Jacksonian era, producerism was a central
tenet of the anti-Chinese crusade in the late nineteenth century. In
the 1920s industrial philosophy of Henry Ford, and Father Coughlin’s
fascist doctrine in the 1930s, producerism fused with antisemitic attacks
against “parasitic” Jews.
Our conception of producerism is derived from Alexander Saxton’s discussion
of the “Producer Ethic” as an ideology of the early White labor movement
that “emphasized an egalitarianism reserved for whites.” (Saxton, The
Rise and Fall of the White Republic: Class Politics and Mass Culture
in Nineteenth-Century America [London: Verso, 1990], p. 313.) See
also White Republic, p. 298; and Saxton, The Indispensable
Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1971), pp. 21-22, 52, 265-69.
Our conception is also deeply influenced by Moishe Postone’s discussion
of how modern antisemitism draws a false dichotomy between “productive” industrial
capital and “parasitic” finance capital. See Postone, "Anti-Semitism
and National Socialism: Notes on the German Reaction to ‘Holocaust,’" new
german critique 19 (Winter 1980), pp. 97-115, esp. pp. 106-13.
We use the term producerism in a different way than Catherine McNicol
Stock does in her book Rural Radicals: Righteous Rage in the American
Grain (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1996). Stock portrays
producerism simply as a form of populist antielitism, separate from (though
sometimes coinciding with) attacks on people of color. In our view, producerism
intrinsically involves a dual-edged combination of anti-elitism and oppression
(in the US setting, usually in the form of racism or antisemitism, but
also sexism and homophobia) and it is precisely this combination that
must be addressed.
Michael Kazin, The Populist Persuasion: An American History (New
York: Basic Books, 1995), also points out the ethnocentric problem of
producerism as it rose in the nineteenth century:
"...the romance of producerism had a cultural blind spot;
it left unchallenged strong prejudices toward not just African-Americans
but also toward recent immigrants who had not learned or would not
employ the language and rituals of this variant of the civil religion....Even
those native-born activists who reached out to immigrant laborers assumed
that men of Anglo-Saxon origins had invented political democracy, predeful
work habits, and well-governed communities of the middling classes."
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