The American Century
Labor Peace, Hegemony, and Civil Rights
At the end of World War II the long struggle for hegemony of the capitalist world was finally over, and the United States was the clear victor. Hegemony not only held out the promise of sure prosperity to large sections of the domestic population, it demanded their cooperation in the social peace and the defense of their state's dominant position in the state system. For the capitalist class, for the new petty bourgeoisie of managers, professionals, and technocrats, for the upper working class of skilled and white men, the post–World War II era undoubtedly seemed to inaugurate a regime of unending and unlimited prosperity.
Although Blacks had won some benefits (e.g., the desegregation of the armed forces and of defense industries), they were clearly demarcated from the segments of the population that were the main beneficiaries of American power and prosperity in the world (along with women as a whole and the increasing numbers of Puerto Ricans and Chicanos). In order to obtain social peace in its home base, the U.S. ruling class had embarked on a policy of extreme repression of the U.S. Left, driving the major part of the CPUSA leadership underground and utterly decimating its rank and file and its mass base. At the same time it effectively incorporated the leadership of the labor movement into the ruling coalition.1
It was in this context that the Black movement became the central force for a just and egalitarian social order within U.S. borders. This movement took two forms: (1) the civil rights movement, marked indelibly with the aura of U.S. hegemony, and (2) the Black Power (or Black liberation) movement, partially a response to the limits of the civil rights movement, and partially a response to a change in conjuncture, the crisis of U.S. hegemony.
From the end of World War II to the early 1960s integration was the dominant ideology among Black protest movements. The goals of integration coincided with the interests of the new Black middle class that