Summary

In earlier sections we argued that public concern about narcotic use and the intensity and focus of law enforcement were functions of the condition of the labor market. We should qualify that now by saying that it has never been the overall market which counted but the secondary one. In other words, in times of scarcity when unskilled labor was hard to come by, popular anxiety about, and police arrests of drug users who came from this segment, used to fall to a minimum.

But times of surplus such as the late 1870s in California, the early and late teens of this century in New York, the thirties, the early fifties and the seventies across the country, have been times of industrial unrest, working-class agitation and militancy, and sharpened political conflict. To these manifestations increased law enforcement has been the typical response of the State - which of course covers every public authority from municipal police to Federal agents. Repression is the simple word for it.

Of course, public officials with this purpose do not announce it as such, like a gang of blackshirts. Instead, drug enforcement is one of the ways a basically repressive policy directed at an entire class, or at least the section of it confined to the secondary labor market, has been carried out by all appearances legally and under the pretext of meeting a new and vicious threat. While it has given legitimacy to anti-working class politics, it has provided at the same time a method for pitting the class against itself by identifying ethnic or racial minorities as scapegoats for larger and more fundamental social ills. Social scientists have played their part in this by reinforcing scapegoat identification in the context of so-called scientific research (Helmer 1973, Ch. 4).

Today race and racism are central features of the way in which the labor market operates: to the extent that blackness condemns a person to working out his life in the secondary labor force and bars almost all occupational mobility (upward), then we can say it also determines the particular black susceptibility to drug use that in earlier sections has been identified. Race, however, appears from the evidence to be only a special case of the broader working-class pattern, and the labor market forces which are associated with it.

We have devoted the bulk of this paper to a historical survey because these data are so poorly known, and without them the context of the study of narcotics use is quite artificial. We are frankly tired of reading social psychological or psychological studies of heroin users which identify as independent variables family structure, adolescent peer association, parental depravation, socialization and value internalization patterns which are characteristic of working- class culture in general (as well as its particular racial or ethnic offshoots) and which are themselves dependent upon the economic exigencies of working-class life, the market for working-class labor, and which do not deserve to be treated as independent causal variables in their own right (cf. Rodman 1971). The psychological and psychiatric literature is particularly unfortunate in this regard, and since class controls are almost never employed in this research, what is frequently presented as a theory of addiction will generally fit working-class behavior in general (Helmer 1974).

Once we realize that not only is the socioeconomic pattern of narcotics use the same as it was a century ago, but that the problem of widespread addiction is a recurrent and cyclical one, we are forced to examine the social constants which have operated in each case or episode in the cycle. This report is intended as a first statement of what these are and how they work.