US History

30
Aug

BOOK REVIEW: Two Volume study shows how the ‘White Race’ was invented, racial slavery became established in colonial America, and the consequences for working class organizing in the USA

By Sean Ahern

Via Substance News,  August 28, 2013

“I ask indulgence for only one assumption, namely that while some people may desire to be masters, all persons are born equally unwilling and unsuited to be slaves.” –The Invention of the White Race (I, 1).

BOOK REVIEW: Review of The Invention of the White Race, Volume I: Racial Oppression and Social Control and Volume II: The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo America by Theodore William Allen (1994, 1997, New Expanded Edition, Verso 2012)

 The "White Race" was invented by colonial slave owners in order to thwart the alliance between British, Scottish and Irish and African indentured servants. The first big division say black skin as dooming a man to lifetime servitude, while "White" servants could be "free" after usually 21 years. As the centuries passed, the privileges of white working people, meager as they were, were often enough to head off any alliances against slavery — or later, in the South especially, against industrial and then finance capitalism.

Introduction

Theodore W. Allen’s ‘The Invention of the White Race’ (2 Vols., I: Racial Oppression and Social Control and II: The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America), has been recognized by increasing numbers of scholars and activists as a seminal work since it was first published by Verso Books in the 1990s. The second edition offers a number of entry points and is designed to attract a broader audience. It features an expanded index, an internal study guide, a selected bibliography and a biographical sketch of the author all prepared by Jeffrey B. Perry, Allen’s literary executor and author of the acclaimed Hubert Harrison The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918, and editor of A Hubert Harrison Reader. The Invention of the White Race is a scrupulously documented, fairly argued, and profoundly radical history. Given the central place that race occupies in the corporate assault on public education and teacher unions, it will be of particular interest to readers of Substance, educators, students and working people interested in understanding the role of white supremacism and the white identity in the defeat of popular movements in our nation’s history. It contains the root of a general theory of United States history and the basis for a revolution in US labor history and in social history. Students of African American history, political economy, Irish American history, gender studies and colonial history will find in Allen’s work much of interest to recommend. For those considering the projected impact of demographic change in the 21st century, The Invention offers a lens through which to assess how the “white race” was invented and reinvented in the past and the ways in which ruling class-interests may seek to adjust, adapt or reinvent it in the present. After 300 years of functioning as a ruling class social control buffer, the US bourgeoisie will not, in this writer’s opinion, willingly abandon its tried and trusted guardian, the so called “white race.”

Genesis of the thesis

 Theodore Allen.Allen’s view of the history of class struggle in the U.S. was radically altered by his reading of W.E.B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction in the early1960′s. Dubois described Black Reconstruction as a “normal working class movement, successful to an unusual degree, despite all disappointments and failures.” Its final defeat was due to “the race philosophy” of white supremacy, which made labor-unity or labor class-consciousness impossible. Together with Esther Kusic, to whom the Invention is dedicated, Allen developed a new approach that placed the struggle against white supremacy and the white skin privilege system at the center of a strategy for proletarian revolution in the US.

Two quotations from Black Reconstruction identify key sparks of insight that eventually led Allen to write The Invention of the White Race:

“The south, after the war [Civil War], presented the greatest opportunity for a real national labor movement which the nation ever saw or is likely to see for many decades. Yet the labor movement, with but few exceptions, never realized the situation. It never had the intelligence or knowledge, as a whole, to see in black slavery and reconstruction, the kernel and meaning of the labor movement in the United States.” [emphasis added]

continue

Category : Marxism | Racism | US History | Working Class | Blog
1
Aug

By Bob Wing*

___________________________________________________________

*Bob Wing has been a social justice organizer and writer since 1968. He was the founding editor of ColorLines magazine and War Times newspaper. Bob lives in Durham, NC and can be contacted through Facebook. Special thanks to my lifelong colleagues Max Elbaum and Linda Burnham and to Jon Liss, Lynn Koh, Carl Davidson, Ajamu Dillahunt, Raymond Eurquhart and Bill Fletcher, Jr. for their comments, critiques and suggestions.

_________________________________________________________

August 1, 2013 – The heartless combination of the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act, the House Republicans flatly shunning the immigration bill and the Trayvon Martin outrage should be a wake up call about the grave dangers posed by the far right and may give rise to a renewed motion among African Americans that could give much needed new impetus and political focus to the progressive movement.

The negative policies and missteps of the Obama administration are often the target of progressive fire, and rightly so. But these take place in the context of (and are sometimes caused by) an extremely perilous development in U.S. politics: an alliance of energized rightwing populists with the most reactionary sector of Big Business has captured the Republican Party with “the unabashed ambition to reverse decades of economic and social policy by any means necessary.” (1)

The GOP is in all-out nullificationist mode, rejecting any federal laws with which they disagree. They are using their power in the judiciary and Congress to block passage or implementation of anything they find distasteful at the federal level. And under the radar the Republicans are rapidly implementing a far flung rightwing program in the 28 states they currently control. They have embarked on an unprecedented overhaul of government on behalf of the one percent and against all sectors of the poor and much of the working and middle classes, undermining the rights of all.

The main precedent in U.S. history for this kind of unbridled reactionary behavior was the states rights, pro-slavery position of the white South leading up to the Civil War. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called out the attempts at nullification in his famous “I Have a Dream Speech,” and the movement of the sixties defeated it. As shown in the ultra-conservative playground that is the North Carolina legislature, the new laws and structures of today’s rightwing program are so extreme and in such stark contrast to the rest of the country that I believe both their strategy and their program should be called “Neo-Secession.”

This nullification and neo-secession must be met by a renewed motion for freedom and social justice. The great scholar-activist Manning Marable, the leader of the powerful fightback in North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber II, MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry and others have called for a Third Reconstruction that builds on the post-Civil War first Reconstruction and the Civil Rights/Second Reconstruction. (2)

We are now at a pivotal point in this fight. The battlelines are drawn: Reactionary Nullification and Neo-Secession or Third Reconstruction?

Like the first secession, this second neo-secession is centered in the South even though it is a national movement with unusual strength in the upper Rocky Mountain and plains states in addition to the South. (3) Similarly racism, especially anti-Black racism, lies at its foundation even as the rightwing assaults all democratic, women’s, immigrant and labor rights, social and environmental programs. Progressives in the South are rising to the challenge. But, deplorably, most Democrats, unions, progressives and social justice forces barely have the South on their radar and rarely invest in it. This must change, and change rapidly.

continue

Category : Elections | Fascism | Racism | Strategy and Tactics | US History | Blog
27
Mar

By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Monthly Review

We were like Custer. We were surrounded.

—Sgt. James J. Riley explaining why he ordered surrender in an engagement in Nasiriyah, Iraq on March 23, 2003. 1

At the onset of the U.S. military invasion of Iraq, Senator Robert Byrd emotionally queried: “What is happening to this country? When did we become a nation which ignores and berates our friends? When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical and doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might? How can we abandon diplomacy when the turmoil in the world cries out for diplomacy?”

As a historian, I would have to respond to Senator Byrd that 1776 or thereabouts was when. Many admirable U.S. anti-imperialists have been making the same point as Senator Byrd. An erasure of history is at the heart of some of the most anti-imperialist critiques of the Bush administration’s foreign policy. Continuity is hidden, and a small departure is exaggerated. From Gore Vidal to Manning Marable to Michael Moore “lost democracy” is a refrain. Edward Said writes: “The doctrine of military pre-emption was never voted on by the American people or their representatives… It seems so monumentally criminal that important words like democracy and freedom have been hijacked, used as a mask for pillage, taking over territory and settling scores.” Said ends his essay by, correctly, stating: “Bush looks like a cowboy.”2

That observation is also common to critics of the war around the world. Although it is meant to be understood as a bad thing, in fact, the cowboy is not a negative metaphor for many U.S. citizens, particularly those who are descendants of the old settler class, as are the majority of the ruling class and officers of the military. How many generations of children now have grown up gleefully playing cowboys and Indians?

Perhaps the fact that I grew up as a child of a cowboy father and Indian mother narrows my view of this metaphor, making it loom too large and out of perspective. Then again, maybe that experience brings with it some insider knowledge.

The Rise of White Supremacy and Imperialism/Capitalism

To allow no dissent from the truth was exactly the reason they had come to America.3

Are your garments spotless?Are they white as snow?

Are they washed in the blood of the lamb?

As this traditional evangelical Christian hymn suggests, whiteness as an ideology is far more complex than mere skin color, although skin color has been and continues to be a key component of racism within the United States. The origins of white supremacy as it is now experienced and institutionalized—and denied—in the United States (and, due to colonialism and imperialism, throughout the world) can be traced to the prior colonizing ventures of Christian Crusades into Muslim-controlled territories, and to the Calvinist Protestant colonization of Ireland. These were the models for the colonization of the Western Hemisphere, and are the two strands that merge in the genetic makeup of U.S. society.

The Christian Crusades against Islam/Africa gave birth to the law of limpieza de sangre, cleanliness of blood, which the Spanish Inquisition was mandated to investigate and determine. The Christian Crusades, particularly the Castilian conquest of the Iberian Peninsula and expulsion of Jews and Muslims, created the seed ideology and institutions for modern colonialism with its necessary tools—racist ideology and justification for genocide. The law of limpieza de sangre was perhaps the most important cargo on the 1492 voyage of Christopher Columbus, sailing under the flag of Spain.

Great Britain emerged as an overseas colonial power a century later than Spain, and absorbed aspects of the Spanish caste system into its colonialist rationalizations, particularly regarding African slavery, within the context of chosen people/New Jerusalem Calvinism and Puritanism.

In the pre-formation of the United States, Puritanism and Calvinist Protestantism uniquely refined white supremacy as a political/religious ideology (a covenant with God) requiring the shedding of white blood for purification. The Ulster-Scots Calvinists were the settler/colonizers of Northern Ireland and constituted a majority of settlers in the western lands over the Appalachian/Allegheny spine of English North America. Their origin story became the origin story of the United States. It tells of pilgrim/settlers doing God’s will and forging into the promised land, being surrounded by savages, and killing the heathen (first the Irish in Ulster, then the Native Americans in North America). Thereby, the sacrifice and blood shed is perceived as proof of the sanctity and purity of the nation itself. All the descendants of those who made such sacrifices are the true inheritors of the land.

continue

Category : Capitalism | Racism | US History | Blog
18
Mar

Legacies of the Musical Cultural Front:

Robeson, Guthrie, and Seeger [1]

By Harry Targ
Purdue University

This paper was a presentation at “Woody at 100: Woody Guthrie’s Legacy to Working Men and Women”, a conferences at Penn State University, September 8-9, 2012 [2]

Introduction

Several key concepts in the Marxian tradition influenced the consciousness and political practice of Paul Robeson, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger. First, all three were historical and dialectical materialists. They conceived of the socio-economic condition of people’s lives as fundamental to the shaping of their activities and consciousness. They were historical materialists in that they understood that the material conditions of people’s lives changed as the economic system in which they lived changed. And they were dialectical in that they were sensitive to the contradictory character of human existence.

Second, class as the fundamental conceptual tool for examining a society shaped their thinking. Increasingly they realized that class struggle was a fundamental force for social change. Given the American historical context they saw that class and race were inextricably interconnected.

Third, all three addressed a theory of imperialism which they regarded as critical to understanding international relations. Living in an age of colonialism and neo-colonialism all three performer/activists, but particularly Paul Robeson, saw imperialism as a central structural feature  of relations between nations, peoples and classes. They were inspired by those resisting the yoke of foreign domination.

Fourth, Robeson, Guthrie, and Seeger saw that community, harmony, and socialism would represent the next stage of societal development. They believed that the vision of socialism had the potential for improving the quality of life of humankind. Robeson’s experiences in the Soviet Union led him to a greater degree to regard the experience of existing socialist states as free of the kind of racism endemic to the United States.

Fifth, Robeson, Guthrie, and Seeger emphasized the connection between theory and practice. Each artist in his own way articulated what Robeson proclaimed in 1937 in the context of supporting the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War that every artist must take a stand. The artist (i.e., the intellectual) must act in the context of a world of exploitation. One was either on the side of the ongoing oppressive order or on the side of change.

Armed with these insights, the three folk artist/activists discussed below committed themselves to action; action grounded in the struggles of their day. In Gramsci’s terms, they were organic intellectuals. They joined anti-racist, anti-colonial, labor and peace struggles. They walked picket lines, entertained Spanish Civil War loyalists, striking workers and other protesters, and sought to lend support to international socialist solidarity. Being an organic intellectual in the 1930s and 40s, and in the case of Pete Seeger the 1940s and beyond, meant participating in what Michael Denning called “the cultural front.” The ambience of the CIO, the Communist movement, civil rights and anti-war struggles, and building the New Deal provided the social forces out of which Robeson, Guthrie, and Seeger could thrive and grow.  The three,–Robeson, Guthrie, and Seeger–artists and activists, were both agents and products of Marxist ideas engaged in practical political work as organic intellectuals participating in a broad cultural front.

Each artist/activist projected an image of human oneness. They saw the connections between the defense of democracy in Spain and the U.S. South and the necessity of building a peaceful and democratic post-World War II order to achieve justice for the working classes of all lands.  Robeson’s consciousness was shaped by the vision of a common pentagonal chord structure in the world’s folk music; a metaphor that privileges difference and unity. The musical visions of Guthrie and Seeger celebrated what was common in the human experience as well.

In sum, the remarks below address the implicit Marxist lens that shaped the consciousness and behavior of three giants-Paul Robeson, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger. It addresses how their artistic and political work was shaped by and shaped the social movements of the period from the 1930s to the present. It draws upon cultural theory, particularly Michael Denning’s idea of a multilayered “cultural front.” And it links the theory, practice and context to the political strategy of the “popular front.”

Finally, the paper suggests that the theory and practice of Robeson, Guthrie, and Seeger represent a model for building contemporary mass movements in the face of economic and political crises. Over the past two years the world has seen mass mobilizations against dictatorship in Middle Eastern regimes; emerging new socialist forces in France, the Netherlands, and Denmark; mass movements against wars on workers, women, and minorities in the United States; and the emergence of grassroots mobilizations, particularly the Occupy Movement, all across the North American continent. The framework of struggle-the 99 percent versus the one percent-while not expressly Marxist, can have the same animating effect on workers, youth, minorities, and women, that the songs of Robeson, Guthrie, and Seeger did from the 1930s to the present time.

Marxist Ideas: Historical and Dialectical Materialism

Marxist analysis begins with the presupposition that humans create the conditions for the production and reproduction of life. These involve the satisfaction of basic needs. To do so requires the organization of production: of human labor, technology, science, and society. “This connection is ever taking on new forms, and thus presents a ‘history’ independently of the existence of any political or religious nonsense which in addition may hold men together.” [3]

continue

Category : Culture | Hegemony | US History | Working Class | Blog
24
Feb

The Shocking Savagery of America’s Early History

Bernard Bailyn, one of our greatest historians, shines his light on the nation’s Dark Ages

By Ron Rosenbaum
Smithsonian magazine, March 2013

It’s all a bit of a blur, isn’t it? That little-remembered century—1600 to 1700—that began with the founding (and foundering) of the first permanent English settlement in America, the one called Jamestown, whose endemic perils portended failure for the dream of a New World. The century that saw all the disease-ridden, barely civilized successors to Jamestown slaughtering and getting slaughtered by the Original Inhabitants, hanging on by their fingernails to some fetid coastal swampland until Pocahontas saved Thanksgiving. No, that’s not right, is it? I said it was a blur.

Enter Bernard Bailyn, the greatest historian of early America alive today. Now over 90 and ensconced at Harvard for more than six decades, Bailyn has recently published another one of his epoch-making grand narrative syntheses, The Barbarous Years, casting a light on the darkness, filling in the blank canvas with what he’s gleaned from what seems like every last scrap of crumbling diary page, every surviving chattel slave receipt and ship’s passenger manifest of the living and dead, every fearful sermon about the Antichrist that survived in the blackened embers of the burned-out churches.

Bailyn has not painted a pretty picture. Little wonder he calls it The Barbarous Years and spares us no details of the terror, desperation, degradation and widespread torture—do you really know what being “flayed alive” means? (The skin is torn from the face and head and the prisoner is disemboweled while still alive.) And yet somehow amid the merciless massacres were elements that gave birth to the rudiments of civilization—or in Bailyn’s evocative phrase, the fragile “integument of civility”—that would evolve 100 years later into a virtual Renaissance culture, a bustling string of self-governing, self-sufficient, defiantly expansionist colonies alive with an increasingly sophisticated and literate political and intellectual culture that would coalesce into the rationale for the birth of American independence. All the while shaping, and sometimes misshaping, the American character. It’s a grand drama in which the glimmers of enlightenment barely survive the savagery, what Yeats called “the blood-dimmed tide,” the brutal establishment of slavery, the race wars with the original inhabitants that Bailyn is not afraid to call “genocidal,” the full, horrifying details of which have virtually been erased.

continue

Category : Racism | US History | Blog