Solidarity Blues: Race, Culture, and the American Left

By Richard Iton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE

Southern Politics and the
Unmaking of the American Left

Hold that engine, let sweet mama get on board, cause my home ain't here, it's a
long way down the road; . . . Come back, choo-choo, mama's gonna find a berth,
goin' to Dixieland, it's the grandest place on earth; . . . Dixie Flyer, come on and
let your drivers roll, wouldn't stay up North to save nobody's doggone soul; . . .
Here's my ticket, take it, please, conductorman, goin' to my mammy way down
in Dixieland. —Bessie Smith, "Dixie Flyer Blues"

The South may not be the nation's number one political problem . . . but politics
is the South's number one problem. —V. O. Key Jr., Southern Politics in State and
Nation

Although the left has institutionalized itself to some significant degree in every Western state except the United States, its emergence was not painless, and its future is neither secure nor guaranteed. Indeed, given the nature of the expectations and fears characteristic of the post-World War I era, one might argue that a major story of the twentieth century was the failure of the left in the West, especially after the late-century jolt that was Thatcherism. Certainly, the conventional left (parties and unions) is currently on the defensive, attempting to safeguard its public policy achievements as it phrases its objectives in increasingly centrist terms (e.g., Great Britain's "New" Labour; the French, Swedish, and German socialist parties; and the former Italian Communist Party).

These developments are not entirely surprising given that sustaining leftist movements involves a difficult and delicate balancing act. The traditional left/ Marxist project has historically been an economically oriented affair, focused on using the modern state as a means of transforming and transcending class differences. Beyond contesting the attractiveness of the market's appeals to individual consumers, it is now clear that the left must be as concerned with cultural issues (e.g., religious and moral attachments, different ethnic experiences)

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