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.”