Issue 4

Hinterland and Suburb: Two Problems, One Solution

An analysis of the contemporary geographies of contradiction and struggle in the US.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

hin·​ter·​land | \ ˈhin-tər-ˌland  , -lənd \

Definition of hinterland

1: a region lying inland from a coast

2 a: a region remote from urban areas

b : a region lying beyond major metropolitan or cultural centers

As long as communists are searching for grounds in reality upon which to base a revolutionary strategy—in the real material conditions of the moment, disrobed of their shifting, spectacular, and altogether illusory aesthetic qualities—they must search the literal grounds, that is, the geography of the places they hope to take power. There is a long and enlightening tradition of Marxist geography in the academy, but today I look in all directions for a foundation in geography for praxis among my comrades, and, I’m sad to say, I see very little.

The best organizers are knowledgeable of the ins and outs of corporate bureaucracies and the Byzantine laws governing renters and workers and employers and so on. From rigorous study of these, they find the cracks and contradictions where revolutionary opportunity spills out. Why have similar cracks and contradictions not been searched for in the functional layout of the contemporary region? Marx notably concerned himself with the relation between country and city. Let me share some examples I see relevant to our own organizing:

– This remains a primary concern for the environmental movement. On the other side of our struggle, every day the capitalists invent more and more perfect systems for calculating precisely the best location to lay down their bricks and mortar. Every day, they invent more and more complicated software for the analysis of ideal transportation routes across land and sea (and, lately, even outer space). 

– We see how this approach by capitalists affects our labor fights on the shop floor. At first, they sell these systems to each other, then they turn around and commodify them into apps in order that we, the laborers, might ensure we can maximize our efficiency on the job to drive the shortest possible distance and arrive at the soonest possible time and, in our off-time, pay the highest possible surcharges for deliveries. 

– And of course, elections. Last but certainly not least, is it not our very own socialist electoralists who obsess over gerrymandering and other geographic divisions which cycle after nerve-numbing cycle turn their plans inside-out? Some of them could recite tax revenue schema and the demographic data of council and congressional districts down to the single digit, not to mention all the legal minutiae concerning the aforementioned. Admittedly, this counts as geographic knowledge of a kind.

If other movements aside from our own, leaders in our own movement’s history, and even our class enemies concern themselves (for different reasons) so deeply with geography, then what accounts for the lack of strategic thinking on this issue by grassroots communist organizers?

Let us take just one case to illustrate a possible answer. Visionary communists should already see that merely organizing the service and information sectors—the majority of the labor side of the economy—will not be sufficient to launch a revolution from the labor movement. The reason is as simple as it is obvious: there are levers of power that lie in the production and distribution of goods that are as essential to exercising economic power today as they were one hundred years ago. There is no communist labor movement without at least some communist penetration into food, manufacturing, and logistics, even if these are sectors that account for a much smaller share of the labor than they did in the past. The food basket region I am from, Imperial Valley in the southeastern corner of California, had a spontaneous labor struggle in the 1930s that was highly infiltrated by the Communist Party. The reaction of the landowners and the grassroots right-wing organizations was incredibly brutal and included illegal deportations, dead-of-night kidnappings, and even murders. A revolutionary movement has no future without these strands of labor militants. 

In the case of farming in California and in many other cases, hasty assumptions about a lack of potential and cultural misunderstandings place any movement in a logic of stagnation, the same logic that left-wing movements in America have pursued for far too long. It goes something like: 

We want to grow the movement.

The people we want don’t want us. 

We won’t change because we are correctly oriented to begin with. 

Thus, the people who don’t want us are lumpenproletariat. 

These hasty assumptions and misunderstandings are founded in a lack of subtle experience and observation developed over decades. Today’s communist organizers have nothing in common with, and precious little understanding of, the typical Mexican laborer in the hinterland. I have seen first-hand that there is a militant energy, an adversarial and deeply embittered attitude among Mexican laborers toward their bosses and even toward the hegemonic social order broadly. There is also a nascent trade-union consciousness, much of it totally separate from the timeless reminiscences of UFW and Cesar Chavez due to  the current moment and contemporary conditions. The same could be said of these workers as could be said of the white miners in West Virginia or the white factory assemblers for John Deere or take your pick—that is, consciousness among the workers and their revolt will assume form quite independently of the communist movement.

Let us now set aside this discussion, which I hope a comrade will take up with me in the pages of Partisan. Let us agree for the sake of the rest of what I write that I have at the very least argued that more attention must be paid to geography within questions of praxis. I want to use my limited ink to move onto assertions about geography. 

Two Important Geographies of Struggle

The first geography of struggle has already been identified: the hinterland. In California, this is the central part of the state where so much of the country’s food is produced. A successful communist movement is one that captures power in these places. I am from a place like this.

The second geography of struggle is the suburb. It probably goes without saying among communists that the suburbs are a vacuum of revolutionary potential unto themselves (notwithstanding the feelings of alienation they inspire in successive generations born and raised in them). They also are the stomping grounds of the petit bourgeoisie, the tech aristocracy, and the most successful stratum of government bureaucrats. The abolition of the suburb is a major communist and ecological demand, one that deserves more forceful representation. The awful social and ecological effects of suburbs are well understood in our movement: deprivation of tax revenue for poorer citydwellers, dwindling water supplies, overtaxing of our unhealthy and fire-prone forests, psychopathological trends toward a callous disregard for basic human dignity and communal responsibility. 

But for communists right now: what part of our strategy can be pursued in the current condition to move toward abolition of the suburb? For one, we can welcome with open arms the armies of radicalized yuppies into our ranks. Although engineers and tech aristocrats can never be proletarianized until their particular systems of production are annihilated, many of them obtain at least an intellectual level of revolutionary consciousness. The reader likely knows the type. They show up to meetings, they talk about how bad they feel that their company is “evil”  They are usually Sanders-oriented social democrats. They spend a lot of time online. Sometimes they are more radical, or even identify as communists (and I am assuming some of these further organize in the caucuses that publish this very Partisan). These are very admirable things that the yuppies do when they occasionally move into the cities. Whereas their parents retreated from the bustling and exciting sidewalks of the city, these young people, no matter their degree of consciousness, have identified a lack of community as an irresolvable reason to never live in the suburbs, and so we find them in our cities. Instead of scorning them, we must capitalize on their tendencies, radicalize them, and then make best use of their labor. This, in turn, attracts more of them to our movement and by measures we convert the wealth of the cold petit-bourgeois suburbs into a city-dwelling nigh-to-be-proletarianized mass. This is a positive development and one that is entirely foreign to the communist organizer currently. In short, be nice to them at our meetings. They can help. 

But, forgive me, this is a change of attitude that happens over a generation—far too long. This is still far too … immaterial. Too cultural. What is concrete that can be done in terms of strategy immediately to address the revolutionary problem of the suburb? 

I am suggesting that at some point in the future we actually go to these places. This is where my analysis of the first geographic problem dovetails with this one, because the practical solution to both is one and the same: send revolutionaries to the geographies in question. In the early stages of our movement, as it stands now, I am not suggesting salting organizers inland. It would be insane to imagine there are enough communists in the country that we could find a single one now who either would, or should, be inclined to do this. The movement is still in its infancy. Rather, I suggest looking outward through our already-existing social networks to find who we know who tends toward radicalization and is living and working in these areas.  

I think it should have occurred to revolutionaries already that when we hear stories from rural parts of the South — Alabama, West Virginia, and so on—that we are hearing of spontaneous outcroppings of rural proletarian consciousness. I know from my own experience that cultivating these digital relationships—in my own case, with those from my very hometown—can lead to opportunities for radicalization and education among the hinterland workers.

Without the hinterland and the suburb, nothing can be won for socialism. 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email