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Theodore W. Allen’s Work On Centrality of Struggle Against White Supremacy
Growing in Importance on 98th Anniversary of His Birth

by Jeffrey B. Perry

August 23, 2017

Tags: The Invention of the White Race, Theodore W. Allen, Ted Allen, #antiwhitesupremacy, #whitesupremacy, labor, chattel bond labor, cpitalism, capitalists, Jeffrey B. Perry, no white people, great white assumption, Bacons's Rebellion, strategy, racial slavery, enslaved Black labor, Virginia, pattern setter, white supremacy, white privilege, white race privilege, @whiteprivilge, #whiteskinPrivilege, #white supremay, proletrians, proletarian, anti-white supremacist, working class intellectual and activist, pioneering class struggle, white skin privilege, Racial Oppression and Social Control, scholars, activists, Table of Contents, The Invention of the White Race, The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America, Verso Books, The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy

Theodore W. Allen

Theodore W. “Ted” Allen (1919-2005) was an anti-white supremacist, working class intellectual and activist. He developed his pioneering class struggle-based analysis of “white skin privilege” beginning in the mid-1960s; authored the seminal two-volume The Invention of the White Race in the 1990s; and consistently maintained that the struggle against white supremacy was central to efforts at radical social change in the United States.

Born on August 23, 1919, in Indianapolis, Indiana, he grew up in Paintsville, Kentucky and Huntington, West Virginia (where he graduated from high school), and then went into the mines and became a United Mine Workers Local President. After hurting his back in the mines he moved to New York City and lived his last fifty-plus years in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.

The Invention of the White Race

Allen's two-volume The Invention of the White Race (1994, 1997: Verso Books, new expanded edition 2012) with its focus on racial oppression and social control is one of the twentieth-century's major contributions to historical understanding. It presents a full-scale challenge to what he refers to as "The Great White Assumption" -- the unquestioning acceptance of the "white race" and "white" identity as skin color-based and natural attributes rather than as social and political constructions. Its thesis on the origin, nature, and maintenance of the "white race" and its understanding that slavery in the Anglo-American plantation colonies was capitalist and enslaved Black laborers were proletarians, contain the basis of a revolutionary approach to United States labor history.

On the back cover of the 1994 edition of Volume 1, subtitled Racial Oppression and Social Control, Allen boldly asserted "When the first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619, there were no 'white' people there; nor, according to the colonial records, would there be for another sixty years." That statement, based on 20-plus years of primary research in Virginia's colonial records, reflected the fact that Allen found no instance of the official use of the word "white" as a token of social status prior to its appearance in a Virginia law passed in 1691. As he later explained, "Others living in the colony at that time were English; they had been English when they left England, and naturally they and their Virginia-born children were English, they were not 'white.' White identity had to be carefully taught, and it would be only after the passage of some six crucial decades" that the word "would appear as a synonym for European-American."

In this context he offers his major thesis -- that the "white race" was invented as a ruling class social control formation in response to labor solidarity as manifested in the latter (civil war) stages of Bacon's Rebellion (1676-77). To this he adds two important corollaries: 1) the ruling elite deliberately instituted a system of racial privileges to define and maintain the "white race" and to implement a system of racial oppression, and 2) the consequence was not only ruinous to the interest of African Americans, it was also disastrous for European-American workers.

In Volume II, on The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America, Allen tells the story of the invention of the “white race” and the development of the system of racial oppression in the late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Anglo-American plantation colonies. His primary focus is on the pattern-setting Virginia colony, and he pays special attention to the reduction of tenants and wage-laborers in the majority English labor force to chattel bond-servants in the 1620s. In so doing, he emphasizes that this was a qualitative break from the condition of laborers in England and from long established English labor law, that it was not a feudal carryover, that it was imposed under capitalism, and that it was an essential precondition of the emergence of the lifetime hereditary chattel bond-servitude imposed upon African-American laborers under the system of racial slavery.

Allen describes how, throughout much of the seventeenth century, the status of African-Americans was indeterminate (because it was still being fought out) and he details the similarity of conditions for African-American and European-American laborers and bond-servants. He also documents many significant instances of labor solidarity and unrest, especially during the 1660s and 1670s. Of great significance is his analysis of the civil war stage of Bacon’s Rebellion when thousands of laboring people took up arms against the ruling plantation elite, the capital (Jamestown) was burned to the ground, rebels controlled 6/7 of the Virginia colony, and Afro- and Euro-American bond-servants fought side-by-side demanding an end to their bondage.

It was in the period after Bacon's Rebellion that the “white race” was invented as a ruling-class social control formation. Allen describes systematic ruling-class policies, which conferred “white race” privileges on European-Americans while imposing harsher disabilities on African-Americans resulting in a system of racial slavery, a form of racial oppression that also imposed severe racial proscriptions on free African-Americans. He emphasizes that when free African-Americans were deprived of their long-held right to vote in Virginia and Governor William Gooch explained in 1735 that the Virginia Assembly had decided upon this curtailment of the franchise in order "to fix a perpetual Brand upon Free Negros & Mulattos," it was not an "unthinking decision." Rather, it was a deliberate act by the plantation bourgeoisie and was a conscious decision in the process of establishing a system of racial oppression, even though it entailed repealing an electoral principle that had existed in Virginia for more than a century.

Key to understanding the virulent racial oppression that develops in Virginia, Allen argues, is the formation of the intermediate social control buffer stratum, which serves the interests of the ruling class. In Virginia, any persons of discernible non-European ancestry after Bacon's Rebellion were denied a role in the social control buffer group, the bulk of which was made up of laboring-class "whites." In the Anglo-Caribbean, by contrast, under a similar Anglo- ruling elite, "mulattos" were included in the social control stratum and were promoted into middle-class status. This difference was rooted in a number of social control-related factors, one of the most important of which was that in the Anglo-Caribbean there were “too few” poor and laboring-class Europeans to embody an adequate petit bourgeoisie, while in the continental colonies there were '’too many’' to be accommodated in the ranks of that class.

In The Invention of the White Race Allen challenges what he considers to be two main ideological props of white supremacy -- the argument that "racism" is innate (and it is therefore useless to challenge it) and the argument that European-American workers “benefit” from "white race" privileges and white supremacy (and that it is therefore not in their interest to oppose them). These two arguments, opposed by Allen, are related to two master historical narratives rooted in writings on the colonial period. The first argument is associated with the “unthinking decision” explanation for the development of racial slavery offered by historian Winthrop D. Jordan in his influential White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812. The second argument is associated with historian Edmund S. Morgan’s influential American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia, which maintains that in Virginia, as slavery developed in the eighteenth century, “there were too few free poor [European-Americans] on hand to matter.” Allen points out that what Morgan said about “too few” free poor was true in the eighteenth century Anglo-Caribbean, but not in Virginia.

“white race” privilege

The article "The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights From Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy" (Cultural Logic, 2010) describes key components of Allen's analysis of "white race" privilege. The article explains that as he developed the "white race" privilege concept, Allen emphasized that these privileges were a "poison bait" (like a shot of “heroin”) and he explained that they "do not permit" the masses of European American workers nor their children "to escape" from that class. "It is not that the ordinary white worker gets more than he must have to support himself," but "the Black worker gets less than the white worker." By, thus "inducing, reinforcing and perpetuating racist attitudes on the part of the white workers, the present-day power masters get the political support of the rank-and-file of the white workers in critical situations, and without having to share with them their super profits in the slightest measure."

As one example, to support his position, Allen provided statistics showing that in the South where race privilege "has always been most emphasized . . . the white workers have fared worse than the white workers in the rest of the country."

Probing more deeply, Allen offered additional important insights into why these race privileges are conferred by the ruling class. He pointed out that "the ideology of white racism" is "not appropriate to the white workers" because it is "contrary to their class interests." Because of this "the bourgeoisie could not long have maintained this ideological influence over the white proletarians by mere racist ideology." Under these circumstances white supremacist thought is "given a material basis in the form of the deliberately contrived system of race privileges for white workers."

Thus, writes Allen, "history has shown that the white-skin privilege does not serve the real interests of the white workers, it also shows that the concomitant racist ideology has blinded them to that fact."

Allen added, "the white supremacist system that had originally been designed in around 1700 by the plantation bourgeoisie to protect the base, the chattel bond labor relation of production" also served "as a part of the 'legal and political' superstructure of the United States government that, until the Civil War, was dominated by the slaveholders with the complicity of the majority of the European-American workers." Then, after emancipation, "the industrial and financial bourgeoisie found that it could be serviceable to their program of social control, anachronistic as it was, and incorporated it into their own 'legal and political' superstructure."

Allen felt that two essential points must be kept in mind. First, "the race-privilege policy is deliberate bourgeois class policy." Second, "the race-privilege policy is, contrary to surface appearance, contrary to the interests, short range as well as long range interests of not only the Black workers but of the white workers as well." He repeatedly emphasized that "the day-to-day real interests" of the European-American worker "is not the white skin privileges, but in the development of an ever-expanding union of class conscious workers." He emphasized, "'Solidarity forever!' means 'Privileges never!'" He elsewhere pointed out, "The Wobblies [the Industrial Workers of the World] caught the essence of it in their slogan: 'An injury to one is an injury to all.'"

Throughout his work Allen stresses that "the initiator and the ultimate guarantor of the white skin privileges of the white worker is not the white worker, but the white worker's masters" and the masters do this because it is "an indispensable necessity for their continued class rule." He describes how "an all-pervasive system of racial privileges was conferred on laboring-class European-Americans, rural and urban, exploited and insecure though they themselves were" and how "its threads, woven into the fabric of every aspect of daily life, of family, church, and state, have constituted the main historical guarantee of the rule of the 'Titans,' damping down anti-capitalist pressures, by making 'race, and not class, the distinction in social life.'" That, "more than any other factor," he argues, "has shaped the contours of American history -- from the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to the Civil War, to the overthrow of Reconstruction, to the Populist Revolt of the 1890s, to the Great Depression, to the civil rights struggle and 'white backlash' of our own day."

Strategy

Allen also addressed the issue of strategy for social change. He emphasized, “The most vulnerable point at which a decisive blow can be struck against bourgeois rule in the United States is white supremacy.” He considered “white supremacy” to be “both the keystone and the Achilles heel of U.S. bourgeois democracy.”

Based on this analysis Allen maintained, “the first main strategic blow must be aimed at the most vulnerable point at which a decisive blow can be struck, namely, white supremacism.” This, he argued, was the conclusion to be drawn from a study of three great social crises in U.S. history – “the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Populist Revolt of the 1890s, and the Great Depression of the 1930s.” In each of these cases “the prospects for a stable broad front against capital has foundered on the shoals of white supremacism, most specifically on the corruption of the European-American workers by racial privilege.”

Groundbreaking Analysis Continues to Grow in Importance

Ted Allen died on January 19, 2005, and a memorial service was held for him at the Brooklyn Public Library where he had worked. Then on October 8, 2005, his ashes, as per his request, were spread in the York River (near West Point, Virginia) close to its convergence with the Pamunkey and Mattaponi Rivers – the location where the final armed holdouts, "Eighty Negroes and Twenty English," refused to surrender in the last stages of Bacon’s Rebellion.

Allen’s historical work has profound implications for American History, African-American History, Labor History, Left History, American Studies, and “Whiteness” Studies and it offers important insights in the areas of Caribbean History, Irish History, and African Diaspora Studies. With its meticulous primary research, equalitarian motif, emphasis on the class struggle dimension of history, and groundbreaking analysis his work continues to grow in influence and importance.

Additional Information

For writings, audios, and videos by and about Theodore W. Allen and his work see HERE

For information on The Invention of the White Race Vol. I: Racial Oppression and Social Control [Verso Books] (including comments from scholars and activists and Table of Contents) see HERE

For information on The Invention of the White Race Vol. II: The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo America (including comments from scholars and activists and Table of Contents) see HERE

For the fullest treatment of the development of Theodore W. Allen’s thought see “The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy” (Cultural Logic, 2010)
HERE


Theodore W. Allen
Born 97 Years Ago
Offers Important Insights On
The Centrality of the Struggle Against White Supremacy

August 23, 2016

Tags: Theodore W. Allen, Ted Allen, Centrality of the Struggle Against White Supremacy, autodidact, anti-white supremacist, working class, intellectual class struggle, white skin privilege, Indianapolis, Verso Books, The Invention of the White Race, Bacon's Rebellion, Solidarity forever means Privileges never, racial oppression, social control, white identity

Theodore W. Allen
Born 97 Years Ago
Offers Important Insights on
The Centrality of the Struggle Against White Supremacy


Theodore W. Allen (August 23, 1919 – January 19, 2005), an autodidactic, anti-white supremacist working class intellectual and activist who pioneered a class struggle-based “white skin privilege” analysis in the mid-1960s and authored the seminal two-volume history The Invention of the White Race was born 97 years ago in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The "Introduction" to Volume I of the new expanded 2012 Verso Books edition of The Invention of the White Race explains:

Theodore W. Allen's The Invention of the White Race, with its focus on social control and the nature of racial oppression, is one of the twentieth-century's major contributions to historical understanding. This two-volume work, first published in 1994 and 1997, and considered a "classic" by 2003, presents a full-scale challenge to what Allen refers to as "The Great White Assumption"--the unquestioning acceptance of the "white race" and "white" identity as skin color-based and natural attributes rather than as social and political constructions. Its thesis on the origin and nature of the so-called "white race" contains the root of a new and radical approach to United States history, one that challenges dominant narratives taught in schools, colleges, universities, and the media. With its equalitarian motif and emphasis on the class struggle dimension of history it contributes mightily to our understanding of American, African American, and Labor History and it speaks to people desiring and struggling for change worldwide. Its influence can be expected to continue to grow in the twenty-first century.

Readers of the first volume of Invention were startled by Allen's bold, back-cover assertion that "When the first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619, there were no 'white' people there; nor, according to the colonial records, would there be for another sixty years." That statement, based on 20-plus years of primary research in Virginia's colonial records, reflected the fact that Allen found no instance of the official use of the word "white" as a token of social status prior to its appearance in a Virginia law passed in 1691. As he later explained, "Others living in the colony at that time were English; they had been English when they left England, and naturally they and their Virginia-born children were English, they were not 'white.' White identity had to be carefully taught, and it would be only after the passage of some six crucial decades" that the word "would appear as a synonym for European-American."

Allen was not merely speaking of word usage, however. His probing research led him to conclude that--based on the commonality of experience, the demonstrated solidarity between African-American and European-American laboring people, and the indeterminate status of African-Americans--the "white race" was not, and could not have been, functioning in early Virginia.

It is in this context that he offers his major thesis -- that the "white race" was invented as a ruling class social control formation in response to labor solidarity as manifested in the latter (civil war) stages of Bacon's Rebellion (1676-77). To this he adds two important corollaries: 1) the ruling elite deliberately instituted a system of racial privileges to define and maintain the "white race" and to implement a system of racial oppression, and 2) the consequence was not only ruinous to the interests of the African-American workers, but was also disastrous for European-American workers.

In developing these theses Allen challenges the two main ideological props of white supremacy--the notion that "racism" is innate (and it is therefore useless to challenge it) and the argument that European-American workers benefit from "white race" privileges and white supremacy (and that it is therefore in their interest not to oppose them).

His challenge is both historical and theoretical. He counters these arguments through meticulous use of sources, through probing analysis of "Racial Oppression and Social Control" (the sub-title of this volume), and through important comparative study that offers analogies, parallels, and differences between the Anglo-American plantation colonies, Ireland, and the Anglo-Caribbean colonies. Allen chooses these examples, all subjected to domination by Anglo ruling elites, in order to show that racial oppression is a system of social control not based on phenotype, or skin color, and to show how social control factors impact how racial oppression begins and how it can be maintained, transformed, or ended.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The article "The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights From Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy" (Cultural Logic," 2010) describes (with documentation) key components of Allen's analysis of "white race" privilege:

As he developed the "white race" privilege concept, Allen emphasized that these privileges were a "poison bait" and explained that they "do not permit" the masses of European American workers nor their children "to escape" from that class. "It is not that the ordinary white worker gets more than he must have to support himself," but "the Black worker gets less than the white worker." By, thus "inducing, reinforcing and perpetuating racist attitudes on the part of the white workers, the present-day power masters get the political support of the rank-and-file of the white workers in critical situations, and without having to share with them their super profits in the slightest measure." As one example, to support his position Allen would provide statistics showing that in the South where race privilege "has always been most emphasized...the white workers have fared worse than the white workers in the rest of the country."

Probing more deeply, Allen offered an additional important insight into why these race privileges are conferred by the ruling class. He pointed out that "the ideology of white racism" is "not appropriate to the white workers" because it is "contrary to their class interests." Because of this "the bourgeoisie could not long have maintained this ideological influence over the white proletarians by mere racist ideology." Under these circumstances white supremacist thought is "given a material basis in the form of the deliberately contrived system of race privileges for white workers."

Allen added, "the white supremacist system that had originally been designed in around 1700 by the plantation bourgeoisie to protect the base, the chattel bond labor relation of production" also served "as a part of the 'legal and political' superstructure of the United States government that, until the Civil War, was dominated by the slaveholders with the complicity of the majority of the European-American workers." Then, after emancipation, "the industrial and financial bourgeoisie found that it could be serviceable to their program of social control, anachronistic as it was, and incorporated it into their own 'legal and political' superstructure."

Allen felt that two essential points must be kept in mind. First, "the race-privilege policy is deliberate bourgeois class policy." Second, "the race-privilege policy is, contrary to surface appearance, contrary to the interests, short range as well as long range interests of not only the Black workers but of the white workers as well." He repeatedly emphasized that "the day-to-day real interests" of the European American worker "is not the white skin privileges, but in the development of an ever-expanding union of class conscious workers."

Allen made clear what he understood as the "interests of the working class" and referred to Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto: "1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole." He elsewhere pointed out, "The Wobblies caught the essence of it in their slogan: 'An injury to one is an injury to all.'"

Throughout his work Allen emphasizes, "that the initiator and the ultimate guarantor of the white skin privileges of the white worker is not the white worker, but the white worker's masters" and the masters do this because it is "an indispensable necessity for their continued class rule." He describes how "an all-pervasive system of racial privileges was conferred on laboring-class European-Americans, rural and urban, exploited and insecure though they themselves were" and how "its threads, woven into the fabric of every aspect of daily life, of family, church, and state, have constituted the main historical guarantee of the rule of the 'Titans,' damping down anti-capitalist pressures, by making 'race, and not class, the distinction in social life.'" That, "more than any other factor," he argues, "has shaped the contours of American history--from the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to the Civil War, to the overthrow of Reconstruction, to the Populist Revolt of the 1890s, to the Great Depression, to the civil rights struggle and 'white backlash' of our own day."

Based on his research Allen wrote, "history has shown that the white-skin privilege does not serve the real interests of the white workers, it also shows that the concomitant racist ideology has blinded them to that fact." He emphasized, "'Solidarity forever!' means 'Privileges never!'"

It is hoped that these brief remarks will lead more people to explore the work of Theodore W. Allen.

For writings, videos, and audios by and about Theodore W. Allen CLICK HERE

For information on Theodore W. Allen’s “The Invention of the White Race” Volume II: "The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo America" (including comments from scholars and activists, Table of Contents, and an overview of the volume) CLICK HERE Note – the new, expanded Verso Books edition of this volume includes new introductions and notes, an expanded index, and a lengthy and detailed internal study guide.

For information on Theodore W. Allen’s “The Invention of the White Race” Volume I: “Racial Oppression and Social Control" (including comments from scholars and activists, Table of Contents, and an overview of the volume) CLICK HERE Note – the new, expanded Verso Books edition of this volume includes new introductions and notes, an expanded index, and a lengthy and detailed internal study guide.

Recommended Summer Reading
Recommended Summer Viewing
On Hubert Harrison
and Theodore W. Allen

July 3, 2016

Tags: Recommended Summer Reading, Theodore W. Allen, Black Radicalism, African American History, Labor History, American History, U.S. History, Non-Fiction, Freethought, Origin, Racial Oppression, Anglo-America, Recommended Summer Viewing, Hubert Harrison, Theodore W. Allen, autodidact, anti-white supremacist, white privilege, white skin privilege, whiteness, Bacon's Rebellion, slavery, chattel bond-servitude, working class, intellectuals, Hubert H. Harrison, Ted Allen, twentieth century, race, class, A Hubert Harrison Reader, Wesleyan University Press, The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918, Columbia University Press, When Africa Awakes, The Inside Story, Stirrings and Strivings, New Negro, Western World, Diasporic Africa Press, Developing Conjuncture, Insights, Centrality, Fight, struggle, Against White Supremacy, The Invention of the White Race, Racial Oppression, Social Control, Verso Books, Dudley Branch, Boston Public Library, Roxbury, Massachusetts, Brecht Forum, New York City, Multiracial Organizing Conference, Greensboro, NC



Recommended Summer Reading
Recommended Summer Viewing
On Hubert Harrison
and Theodore W. Allen

Important summer reading and viewing -- The autodidactic, anti-white supremacist, working-class intellectuals Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen are two of the twentieth century’s most important thinkers on race and class. The following readings and videos are recommended:

“A Hubert Harrison Reader” ed. with an introduction and notes by Jeffrey B. Perry (Wesleyan University Press) CLICK HERE

Jeffrey B. Perry, “Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918” (Columbia University Press) CLICK HERE

Hubert H. Harrison, “When Africa Awakes: The ‘Inside Story’ of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World,” edited with an introduction and notes by Jeffrey B. Perry (Diasporic Africa Press) CLICK HERE

Jeffrey B. Perry, “The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy” (which offers the fullest treatment of the development of Allen’s thought -- CLICK HERE

Theodore W. Allen, “The Invention of the White Race” Volume 1: “Racial Oppression and Social Control," edited with an introduction and notes by Jeffrey B. Perry (Verso Books), CLICK HERE

Theodore W. Allen, “The Invention of the White Race,” Volume 2: "The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America," CLICK HERE

“Hubert Harrison,” video of a slide presentation/talk by Jeffrey B. Perry at the Dudley Branch of the Boston Public Library in Roxbury, Massachusetts on February 15, 2014, CLICK HERE

“Theodore W. Allen’s ‘The Invention of the White Race’" by Jeffrey B. Perry at the Brecht Forum in New York City CLICK HERE

“Theodore W. Allen and ‘The Invention of the White Race’” video of 2016 slide presentation/talk by Jeffrey B. Perry at a “Multiracial Organizing Conference” against white supremacy in Greensboro, NC CLICK HERE

Jeffrey B. Perry, “The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy” (which offers the fullest treatment of the development of Allen’s thought) http://www.jeffreybperry.net (at Top Left) or see http://clogic.eserver.org/2010/2010.html

On Recent David Rosen Articles
in "Counterpunch" and "Black Star News"
and Theodore W. Allen's
Five-Stage Cycle

January 29, 2016

Tags: David Rosen, white skin privilege, white privilege, anti-white supremacist, working class struggle, class struggle, capitalism, Counterpunch, Black Star News, Theodore W. Allen, Five-Stage Cycle

Insights From Theodore W. Allen on the “five-stage cycle”


In recent articles, including pieces in “Counterpunch” and “Black Star News,” the author David Rosen addresses the themes of a “deepening social crisis gripping the U.S” and “that white skin privilege is being eroded.”

Theodore W. Allen, whose anti-white supremacist, class struggle-based, theoretical approach pioneered “white skin privilege” analysis in the mid-1960s offered important insights relevant to the currently developing American conjuncture. In an instructive 1974 talk on the economic situation, and in a 1997 update that he presented before the Union of Radical Political Economists, Allen suggested that “the history of class struggle in the U.S. could be interpreted as a five-stage cycle in which:

1) The normal course of capitalist events brings on a deterioration of the conditions of the laboring classes.
2) The substance of the white-skin privileges becomes somewhat drained away by increased insecurity and exploitation.
3) The laboring-class “whites” manifest, to a greater or lesser extent, a tendency to make common cause with laboring-class Blacks against capital.
4) The ruling class moves to re-substantiate the racial privileges of the white workers vis-à-vis the Blacks.
5) The white workers take the bait, repudiate solidarity with Black laboring people and submit themselves without radical protest to exploitation by the privilege-givers.”

Allen emphasized the crucial importance of anti-white supremacist, working class struggle at all stages, but particularly between phases 3 and 5. For Allen, this was an especially key period to challenge the re-substantiation of “white race” privileges and to heighten anti-white supremacist struggle.

For more on Allen’s discussion of the 5-stage cycle and the fullest IN-DEPTH TREATMENT of his forty-plus years of writings on “white skin privilege” and class struggle see “The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights From Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy” by Jeffrey B. Perry in PDF format at the TOP LEFT
For writings by and about Theodore W. Allen
CLICK HERE

For a video of a slide presentation/talk on Theodore W. Allen’s “The Invention of the White Race” CLICK HERE

For information on “The Invention of the White Race” Vol. II: "The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo America" (including comments from scholars and activists and Table of Contents) CLICK HERE

For information on “The Invention of the White Race” Vol. I: “Racial Oppression and Social Control" (including comments from scholars and activists and Table of Contents) CLICK HERE

For information on Theodore W. Allen’s “Summary of the Argument of The Invention of the White Race” Part 1 CLICK HERE
and for Part 2 CLICK HERE

For a video of a Slide Presentation/Talk on Hubert Harrison CLICK HERE

For comments from scholars and activists on "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" (Columbia University Press) CLICK HERE
and CLICK HERE

For articles, audios, and videos by and about Hubert Harrison CLICK HERE

Sample David Rosen discussing “white skin privilege” and the developing crisis can be found CLICK HERE and CLICK HERE

Theodore W. Allen
Offers Key Writings for the Study of U.S. Labor History
by Jeffrey B. Perry

April 7, 2014

Tags: Labor History, working-class, Theodore W. Allen, The Invention of the White Race, Verso Books, Toward a Revolution in Labor History, Jeffrey B. Perry, The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights From Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy, Cultural Logic, labor historians, African American, bond-laborers, proletarians, class-conscious, anti-white supremacist, counter-narrative, re-interpretation, white labor apology, slavery in Anglo-America as capitalism, slaveholders as capitalists, enslaved laborers as proletarians, capitalist, racial slavery, means of production, plantations, non-owners, alienation of labor power, commodities, capital, plantation bourgeoisie, slaves, proletarians, chattel bond-labor, W. E. B. Du Bois, Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, Lewis C. Gray, Roger W. Shugg, Hubert Harrison, David Roediger, Winthrop D. Jordan, Eric Williams, C. L. R. James, Caribbean, Karl Marx, surplus-value, Civil War, free wage-labor, Negroes, wage labor, labor-power, commodity, labor power, Abraham Lincoln, International Socialist Review, essentially proletarian, most throroughly exploited, proletariat, duty of the party, crucial test, Socialism, kernel and the meaning, labor movement, chattel bond-laborers, white blindspot, labor historians, heterogeneity, safety valve, homesteading, social mobility, relative shortage of labor, pure and simple trade unionism, classical consensus, Frederick Engels, proletarian revolution, Frederick A. Sorge, Frederick Jackson Turner, Richard T. Ely, Christian Socialist, Morris Hillquit, Socialist Party, John R. Commons, Selig Perlman, A Theory of the Labor Movement, Mary Beard, Charles A. Beard, William Z. Foster, communism, American exceptionalism, white-blindness, white supremacism, white skin privilege, main retardant, white supremacy, white race, majoritarian democratic facade, main barrier, incubus of white identity, European-American, free land safety valve theory, railroads, mining companies, land companies, speculators, homesteading, heterogeneity, industrial unions, workers party, language problem, Exodus of 1879, 1877, Haymarket, 1886, Pullman strike, 1894, Populists, the South, Middle Western farmers, sit down strikes, industrial unionism, workers and poor farmers, Free land, constitutional liberties, immigration, high wages, social mobility, aristocracy of labor, white skin privileges

Those studying of US Labor History would do well to include writings by and about the independent, working-class scholar Theodore W. Allen (1919-2005), especially as put forth in his The Invention of the White Race (2 vols., Verso Books, [1994, 1997], 2012) and his still-to-be-published “Toward a Revolution in Labor History” (2004). (See some of these writings can be found HERE.)

Important insights from Allen’s writings are found in Jeffrey B. Perry, “The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights From Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy” (Cultural Logic July 2010) available online HERE (top left) and HERE . (This article includes links to many writings by Allen.)

Allen contends, that “the beginning of wisdom for labor historians must be the recognition that from 1619 on the history of African American bond-laborers is a history of proletarians. From this all else follows.”

In his writings Allen seeks to lay the basis for a class-conscious, anti-white supremacist, counter-narrative of American history. He offers “the groundwork for a total re-interpretation of U.S. history” that he considers to be “unfettered by white labor apology which consistently locates Afro-Americans outside the working class.”

Of major importance is Allen’s analysis of slavery in Anglo-America as capitalism, slaveholders as capitalists, and enslaved laborers as proletarians. In describing “the capitalist development which motored the Anglo-American racial slavery system,” Allen’s historical work shows “that the means of production on the plantations were monopolized by one class,” that “non-owners were reduced to absolute dependence upon the owners and could live only by the alienation of their own labor power to the service of the owning class,” that “the products of the plantation took the form of commodities,” and “that the aim of production was the accumulation and expansion of capital.”

He emphasizes that “slaveholders were capitalists – a plantation bourgeoisie – and the slaves were proletarians.” He also points out that the “proposition that the United States plantation system based on chattel bond-labor was a capitalist operation is a widely recognized principle of political economy” and cites a disparate group of writers including W. E. B. Du Bois, Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, Lewis C. Gray, Roger W. Shugg, Hubert Harrison, David Roediger, and Winthrop D. Jordan who have taken this position, and he adds that Eric Williams and C. L. R. James “view Caribbean slavery in this light, as well.”

Allen calls special attention to the fact that Karl Marx invariably treated the American plantation economy as capitalist enterprise and quotes Marx that “The production of surplus-value is the absolute law of this [capitalist – TWA] mode of production.” He similarly quotes Marx that “The overworking of the Negro [bond-laborer – TWA] . . . was no longer a question of obtaining from him a certain quantity of useful products [as in ancient classical slavery – TWA]. It was now a question of the production of surplus-value itself.” Referring to circumstances where both rent and profit go to the owner-employer Marx explained, “Where capitalist conceptions predominate, as they did upon the American plantations, this entire surplus-value is regarded as profit.” Allen also quotes Marx before the Civil War discussing the nature of differential rent and commenting that while free wage-labor is the normal basis of capitalist production, still “the capitalist mode of production exists” in the Anglo-American plantation colonies based on “the slavery of Negroes.”

In the course of his work Allen addresses a question that might be raised – How can slavery be capitalist, since it is not based on wage labor? He responds, “What is historically significant about the wages system is that it is based on the general transformation of labor-power into a commodity, and that in turn is due to the fact that the producers have lost ownership of the means production, and therefore can live only by the sale of their labor power.” He cites Marx’s letter to Lincoln, that the African-American bond-laborer was “sold without his concurrence, while the European-American worker could ‘sell himself,’” and Marx’s statement that “‘the business in which slaves are used [in the United States] is conducted by capitalists,’ and for the same purpose, the accumulation of capital by the extraction of surplus value from the exploitation of commodity-producing labor.”

Allen notes, “the bond-labor form was a contradiction of the basic requisites of general capitalist development – a contradiction that was purged away in the Civil War,” but emphasizes that “[for] a time that form of labor was not a barrier to rapid capitalist accumulation, but its main engine.”

On the topic of slaveholders as capitalists and the enslaved laborers as proletarians Allen quotes from Hubert Harrison in the 1912 International Socialist Review that “The . . . Negroes of America form a group that is more essentially proletarian than any other American group.” Allen adds that in “a presumed reference to African American bond-laborers” Harrison wrote, “the Negro was at one period the most thoroughly exploited of the American proletariat.” After quoting Harrison’s statements that “the duty of the [Socialist] party to champion his [the African American’s] cause is as clear as day” and “this is the crucial test of Socialism's sincerity,” Allen concludes: “the study of class consciousness, ‘the working people’s consciousness of their interests and of their predicament as a class,’ should start with the recognition of that fact.”

Allen draws a similar conclusion from Du Bois’ discussion of the interests of “the laboring class, black and white, North and South.” Over his last forty years he would often cite, and add emphasis to, Du Bois’ seminal words that “the [white] labor movement, with but few exceptions, . . . never had the intelligence or knowledge, as a whole, to see in black slavery and Reconstruction, the kernel and the meaning of the labor movement in the United States.

For Allen, this insight expressed by Du Bois was “a basis . . . for understanding and applying the general Marxist principles in assessing the interests of American labor and the state of American labor’s consciousness of those interests.” As Allen explained:

"Given this understanding of slavery in Anglo-America as capitalism, and of the slaveholders as capitalists, it follows that the chattel bond-laborers were proletarians. Accordingly, the study of class consciousness as a sense the American workers have of their own class interests, must start with recognition of that fact. But historians guided by the white blindspot have, in effect, defined the United States working class as an essentially European-American grouping. In doing so they have ignored or, at best, marginalized the propertyless African-American plantation workers, the exploitation of whose surplus value-producing labor was also the basis of capital accumulation for the employers of those workers."

Also of great importance is Allen’s historical research in which he challenged (almost 50 years ago) what he described as the prevailing consensus among left and labor historians, a consensus that attributed the low level of class consciousness among American workers to such factors as the early development of civil liberties, the heterogeneity of the work force, the safety valve of homesteading opportunities in the west, the ease of social mobility, the relative shortage of labor, and the early development of “pure and simple trade unionism.”

He argued that the “classical consensus on the subject” was the product of the efforts of such writers as Frederick Engels, “co-founder with Karl Marx of the very theory of proletarian revolution”; Frederick A. Sorge, “main correspondent of Marx and Engels in the United States” and a socialist and labor activist for almost sixty years; Frederick Jackson Turner, giant of U.S. history; Richard T. Ely, Christian Socialist and author of “the first attempt at a labor history in the United States”; Morris Hillquit, founder and leading figure of the Socialist Party for almost two decades; John R. Commons, who, with his associates authored the first comprehensive history of the U.S. labor movement; Selig Perlman, a Commons associate who later authored A Theory of the Labor Movement; Mary Beard and Charles A. Beard, labor and general historians; and William Z. Foster, major figure in the history of U.S. communism with “his analyses of ‘American exceptionalism.’”

Allen challenged this “old consensus” as being “seriously flawed . . . by erroneous assumptions, one-sidedness, exaggeration, and above all, by white-blindness.” He also countered with his own theory that white supremacism, reinforced among European-Americans by “white skin privilege,” was the main retardant of working-class consciousness in the U.S. and that efforts at radical social change should direct principal efforts at challenging the system of white supremacy and “white skin privilege.”

As he further developed his analysis Allen would later add and emphasize that the “white race,” by its all-class form, conceals the operation of the ruling class social control system by providing it with a majoritarian “democratic” facade and that “the main barrier to class consciousness” was “the incubus of ‘white’ identity of the European-American.”

Allen discussed reasons that the six-point rationale had lost much of its force and focused on historical analyses. He noted that the free land safety valve theory had been “thoroughly discredited” for many reasons including that the bulk of the best lands were taken by railroads, mining companies, land companies, and speculators and that the costs of homesteading were prohibitive for eastern wage earners. He similarly pointed out that heterogeneity “may well . . . have brought . . . more strength than weakness to the United States labor and radical movement”; that the “rise of mass, ‘non aristocratic,’ industrial unions has not broken the basic pattern of opposition to a workers party, on the part of the leaders”; and that the “‘language problem’ in labor agitating and organizing never really posed any insurmountable obstacle.”

He then focused on what he described as “two basic and irrefutable themes.” First, whatever the state of class consciousness may have been most of the time, “there have been occasional periods of widespread and violent eruption of radical thought and action on the part of the workers and poor farmers, white and black.” He cited Black labor's valiant Reconstruction struggle; the Exodus of 1879; the “year of violence” in 1877 marked by “fiery revolts at every major terminal point across the country”; the period from “bloody Haymarket” in 1886 to the Pullman strike of 1894 during which “the U.S. army was called upon no less than 328 times to suppress labor's struggles”; the Populists of the same period when Black and white poor farmers “joined hands for an instant in the South” and when Middle Western farmers decided to “raise less corn and more hell!”; and the labor struggles of the 1930's marked by sit down strikes and the establishment of industrial unionism. Allen emphasized that in such times “any proposal to discuss the relative backwardness of the United States workers and poor farmers would have had a ring of unreality.” He reasoned, “if, in such crises, the cause of labor was consistently defeated by force and cooptation; if no permanent advance of class consciousness in the form of a third, anti capitalist, party was achieved . . . there must have been reasons more relevant than ‘free land’ that you couldn't get; ‘free votes’ that you couldn't cast, or couldn't get counted; or ‘high wages’ for jobs you couldn't find or . . . the rest of the standard rationale.”

His second, “irrefutable” theme was that each of the facts of life in the classical consensus had to be “decisively altered when examined in the light of the centrality of the question of white supremacy and of the white skin privileges of the white workers.” He again reasoned, “‘Free land,’ ‘constitutional liberties,’ ‘immigration,’ ‘high wages,’ ‘social mobility,’ ‘aristocracy of labor’” were “all, white skin privileges” and “whatever their effect upon the thinking of white workers may be said to be, the same cannot be claimed in the case of the Negro.”

December 17th is the Anniversary of the Death
of Hubert Harrison
in 1927 at Age 44

December 16, 2013

Tags: December 17, anniversary, death, Hubert Harrison, New Negro. Hubert H. Harrison, Joel A. Rogers, World's Great Men of Color, A. Philip Randolph, labor, civil rights, father of Harlem radicalism, Arthur Schomburg, St. Croix, Danish West Indies, class-consciousness, anti-white supremacist, race consciousness, class conscious, race conscious, capitalism, white supremacy, touchstone, democracy, dust in the eyes, revolution startling to even think of, socialism, Garvey movement, Civil Rights, Negro World, Black Liberation, Socialist Party, Voice, Liberty League, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, freethought, birth control, book reviewer, bibliophile, 135th Street Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918, Columbia University Press, common people, independent thought, scientific, critical, modern, radical, Color Line

Hubert Harrison (1883-1927) is one of the truly important figures of early twentieth-century America. A brilliant writer, orator, educator, critic, and political activist, he was described by the historian Joel A. Rogers, in World’s Great Men of Color as “the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time.” Labor and civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph described Harrison as “the father of Harlem Radicalism.” Harrison’s friend and pallbearer, Arthur Schomburg, fully aware of his popularity, eulogized to the thousands attending Harrison’s Harlem funeral that he was also “ahead of his time.”

Born in St. Croix, Danish West Indies, in 1883, to a Bajan mother and a Crucian father, Harrison arrived in New York as a seventeen-year-old orphan in 1900. He made his mark in the United States by struggling against class and racial oppression, by helping to create a remarkably rich and vibrant intellectual life among African Americans, and by working for the enlightened development of the lives of “the common people.” He consistently emphasized the need for working class people to develop class-consciousness; for “Negroes” to develop race consciousness, self-reliance, and self-respect; and for all those he reached to challenge white supremacy and develop modern, scientific, critical, and independent thought as a means toward liberation.

A self-described “radical internationalist,” Harrison was extremely well-versed in history and events in Africa, Asia, the Mideast, the Americas, and Europe. More than any other political leader of his era, he combined class-consciousness and anti-white supremacist race consciousness in a coherent political radicalism. He opposed capitalism and maintained that white supremacy was central to capitalist rule in the United States. He emphasized that “politically, the Negro is the touchstone of the modern democratic idea”; that “as long as the Color Line exists, all the perfumed protestations of Democracy on the part of the white race” were “downright lying,” that “the cant of ‘Democracy’” was “intended as dust in the eyes of white voters,” and that true democracy and equality for “Negroes” implied “a revolution . . . startling even to think of.”

Working from this theoretical framework, he was active with a wide variety of movements and organizations and played signal roles in the development of what were, up to that time, the largest class radical movement (socialism) and the largest race radical movement (the “New Negro”/Garvey movement) in U.S. history. His ideas on the centrality of the struggle against white supremacy anticipated the profound transformative power of the Civil Rights/Black Liberation struggles of the 1960s and his thoughts on “democracy in America” offer penetrating insights on the limitations and potential of America in the twenty-first century.

Harrison served as the foremost Black organizer, agitator, and theoretician in the Socialist Party of New York during its 1912 heyday; he founded the first organization (the Liberty League) and the first newspaper (The Voice) of the militant, World War I-era “New Negro” movement; and he served as the editor of the New Negro in 1919 and as the editor of the Negro World and principal radical influence on the Garvey movement during its radical high point in 1920. His views on race and class profoundly influenced a generation of “New Negro” militants including the class radical A. Philip Randolph and the race radical Marcus Garvey. Considered more race conscious than Randolph and more class conscious than Garvey, Harrison is a key ideological link between the two great trends of the Black Liberation Movement--the labor and civil rights trend associated with Martin Luther King, Jr., and the race and nationalist trend associated with Malcolm X. (Randolph and Garvey were, respectively, the direct links to King marching on Washington, with Randolph at his side, and to Malcolm, whose parents were involved with the Garvey movement, speaking militantly and proudly on street corners in Harlem.)

Harrison was not only a political radical, however. J. A. Rogers described him as an “Intellectual Giant and Free-Lance Educator,” whose contributions were wide-ranging, innovative, and influential. He was an immensely skilled and popular orator and educator who spoke and/or read six languages; a highly praised journalist, critic, and book reviewer (reportedly the first regular Black book reviewer in history); a pioneer Black activist in the freethought and birth control movements; a bibliophile and library builder and popularizer who helped develop the 135th Street Public Library into what became known as the internationally famous Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; a pioneer Black lecturer for the New York City Board of Education and one of its foremost orators). His biography offers profound insights on race, class, religion, immigration, war, democracy, and social change in America.

For information on vol. 1 of his biography, Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918 (Columbia University Press) CLICK HERE and CLICK HERE

For writings by and about Hubert Harrison CLICK HERE

December 17th is the anniversary of the death of Hubert Harrison in 1927 at age 44. – Please help to spread the word about his important life and work!

Theodore W. Allen
Offers Key Writings for the Study of U.S. Labor History
by Jeffrey B. Perry

October 30, 2013

Tags: Labor History, working-class, Theodore W. Allen, The Invention of the White Race, Verso Books, Toward a Revolution in Labor History, Jeffrey B. Perry, The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights From Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy, Cultural Logic, labor historians, African American, bond-laborers, proletarians, class-conscious, anti-white supremacist, counter-narrative, re-interpretation, white labor apology, slavery in Anglo-America as capitalism, slaveholders as capitalists, enslaved laborers as proletarians, capitalist, racial slavery, means of production, plantations, non-owners, alienation of labor power, commodities, capital, plantation bourgeoisie, slaves, proletarians, chattel bond-labor, W. E. B. Du Bois, Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, Lewis C. Gray, Roger W. Shugg, Hubert Harrison, David Roediger, Winthrop D. Jordan, Eric Williams, C. L. R. James, Caribbean, Karl Marx, surplus-value, Civil War, free wage-labor, Negroes, wage labor, labor-power, commodity, labor power, Abraham Lincoln, International Socialist Review, essentially proletarian, most throroughly exploited, proletariat, duty of the party, crucial test, Socialism, kernel and the meaning, labor movement, chattel bond-laborers, white blindspot, labor historians, heterogeneity, safety valve, homesteading, social mobility, relative shortage of labor, pure and simple trade unionism, classical consensus, Frederick Engels, proletarian revolution, Frederick A. Sorge, Frederick Jackson Turner, Richard T. Ely, Christian Socialist, Morris Hillquit, Socialist Party, John R. Commons, Selig Perlman, A Theory of the Labor Movement, Mary Beard, Charles A. Beard, William Z. Foster, communism, American exceptionalism, white-blindness, white supremacism, white skin privilege, main retardant, white supremacy, white race, majoritarian democratic facade, main barrier, incubus of white identity, European-American, free land safety valve theory, railroads, mining companies, land companies, speculators, homesteading, heterogeneity, industrial unions, workers party, language problem, Exodus of 1879, 1877, Haymarket, 1886, Pullman strike, 1894, Populists, the South, Middle Western farmers, sit down strikes, industrial unionism, workers and poor farmers, Free land, constitutional liberties, immigration, high wages, social mobility, aristocracy of labor, white skin privileges

Those studying of US Labor History would do well to include writings by and about the independent, working-class scholar Theodore W. Allen (1919-2005), especially as put forth in his The Invention of the White Race (2 vols., Verso Books, [1994, 1997], 2012) and his still-to-be-published “Toward a Revolution in Labor History” (2004). (See some of these writings can be found HERE.)

Important insights from Allen’s writings are found in Jeffrey B. Perry, “The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights From Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy” (Cultural Logic July 2010) available online HERE (top left) and HERE . (This article includes links to many writings by Allen.)

Allen contends, that “the beginning of wisdom for labor historians must be the recognition that from 1619 on the history of African American bond-laborers is a history of proletarians. From this all else follows.”

In his writings Allen seeks to lay the basis for a class-conscious, anti-white supremacist, counter-narrative of American history. He offers “the groundwork for a total re-interpretation of U.S. history” that he considers to be “unfettered by white labor apology which consistently locates Afro-Americans outside the working class.”

Of major importance is Allen’s analysis of slavery in Anglo-America as capitalism, slaveholders as capitalists, and enslaved laborers as proletarians. In describing “the capitalist development which motored the Anglo-American racial slavery system,” Allen’s historical work shows “that the means of production on the plantations were monopolized by one class,” that “non-owners were reduced to absolute dependence upon the owners and could live only by the alienation of their own labor power to the service of the owning class,” that “the products of the plantation took the form of commodities,” and “that the aim of production was the accumulation and expansion of capital.”

He emphasizes that “slaveholders were capitalists – a plantation bourgeoisie – and the slaves were proletarians.” He also points out that the “proposition that the United States plantation system based on chattel bond-labor was a capitalist operation is a widely recognized principle of political economy” and cites a disparate group of writers including W. E. B. Du Bois, Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, Lewis C. Gray, Roger W. Shugg, Hubert Harrison, David Roediger, and Winthrop D. Jordan who have taken this position, and he adds that Eric Williams and C. L. R. James “view Caribbean slavery in this light, as well.”

Allen calls special attention to the fact that Karl Marx invariably treated the American plantation economy as capitalist enterprise and quotes Marx that “The production of surplus-value is the absolute law of this [capitalist – TWA] mode of production.” He similarly quotes Marx that “The overworking of the Negro [bond-laborer – TWA] . . . was no longer a question of obtaining from him a certain quantity of useful products [as in ancient classical slavery – TWA]. It was now a question of the production of surplus-value itself.” Referring to circumstances where both rent and profit go to the owner-employer Marx explained, “Where capitalist conceptions predominate, as they did upon the American plantations, this entire surplus-value is regarded as profit.” Allen also quotes Marx before the Civil War discussing the nature of differential rent and commenting that while free wage-labor is the normal basis of capitalist production, still “the capitalist mode of production exists” in the Anglo-American plantation colonies based on “the slavery of Negroes.”

In the course of his work Allen addresses a question that might be raised – How can slavery be capitalist, since it is not based on wage labor? He responds, “What is historically significant about the wages system is that it is based on the general transformation of labor-power into a commodity, and that in turn is due to the fact that the producers have lost ownership of the means production, and therefore can live only by the sale of their labor power.” He cites Marx’s letter to Lincoln, that the African-American bond-laborer was “sold without his concurrence, while the European-American worker could ‘sell himself,’” and Marx’s statement that “‘the business in which slaves are used [in the United States] is conducted by capitalists,’ and for the same purpose, the accumulation of capital by the extraction of surplus value from the exploitation of commodity-producing labor.”

Allen notes, “the bond-labor form was a contradiction of the basic requisites of general capitalist development – a contradiction that was purged away in the Civil War,” but emphasizes that “[for] a time that form of labor was not a barrier to rapid capitalist accumulation, but its main engine.”

On the topic of slaveholders as capitalists and the enslaved laborers as proletarians Allen quotes from Hubert Harrison in the 1912 International Socialist Review that “The . . . Negroes of America form a group that is more essentially proletarian than any other American group.” Allen adds that in “a presumed reference to African American bond-laborers” Harrison wrote, “the Negro was at one period the most thoroughly exploited of the American proletariat.” After quoting Harrison’s statements that “the duty of the [Socialist] party to champion his [the African American’s] cause is as clear as day” and “this is the crucial test of Socialism's sincerity,” Allen concludes: “the study of class consciousness, ‘the working people’s consciousness of their interests and of their predicament as a class,’ should start with the recognition of that fact.”

Allen draws a similar conclusion from Du Bois’ discussion of the interests of “the laboring class, black and white, North and South.” Over his last forty years he would often cite, and add emphasis to, Du Bois’ seminal words that “the [white] labor movement, with but few exceptions, . . . never had the intelligence or knowledge, as a whole, to see in black slavery and Reconstruction, the kernel and the meaning of the labor movement in the United States.

For Allen, this insight expressed by Du Bois was “a basis . . . for understanding and applying the general Marxist principles in assessing the interests of American labor and the state of American labor’s consciousness of those interests.” As Allen explained:

"Given this understanding of slavery in Anglo-America as capitalism, and of the slaveholders as capitalists, it follows that the chattel bond-laborers were proletarians. Accordingly, the study of class consciousness as a sense the American workers have of their own class interests, must start with recognition of that fact. But historians guided by the white blindspot have, in effect, defined the United States working class as an essentially European-American grouping. In doing so they have ignored or, at best, marginalized the propertyless African-American plantation workers, the exploitation of whose surplus value-producing labor was also the basis of capital accumulation for the employers of those workers."

Also of great importance is Allen’s historical research in which he challenged (almost 50 years ago) what he described as the prevailing consensus among left and labor historians, a consensus that attributed the low level of class consciousness among American workers to such factors as the early development of civil liberties, the heterogeneity of the work force, the safety valve of homesteading opportunities in the west, the ease of social mobility, the relative shortage of labor, and the early development of “pure and simple trade unionism.”

He argued that the “classical consensus on the subject” was the product of the efforts of such writers as Frederick Engels, “co-founder with Karl Marx of the very theory of proletarian revolution”; Frederick A. Sorge, “main correspondent of Marx and Engels in the United States” and a socialist and labor activist for almost sixty years; Frederick Jackson Turner, giant of U.S. history; Richard T. Ely, Christian Socialist and author of “the first attempt at a labor history in the United States”; Morris Hillquit, founder and leading figure of the Socialist Party for almost two decades; John R. Commons, who, with his associates authored the first comprehensive history of the U.S. labor movement; Selig Perlman, a Commons associate who later authored A Theory of the Labor Movement; Mary Beard and Charles A. Beard, labor and general historians; and William Z. Foster, major figure in the history of U.S. communism with “his analyses of ‘American exceptionalism.’”

Allen challenged this “old consensus” as being “seriously flawed . . . by erroneous assumptions, one-sidedness, exaggeration, and above all, by white-blindness.” He also countered with his own theory that white supremacism, reinforced among European-Americans by “white skin privilege,” was the main retardant of working-class consciousness in the U.S. and that efforts at radical social change should direct principal efforts at challenging the system of white supremacy and “white skin privilege.”

As he further developed his analysis Allen would later add and emphasize that the “white race,” by its all-class form, conceals the operation of the ruling class social control system by providing it with a majoritarian “democratic” facade and that “the main barrier to class consciousness” was “the incubus of ‘white’ identity of the European-American.”

Allen discussed reasons that the six-point rationale had lost much of its force and focused on historical analyses. He noted that the free land safety valve theory had been “thoroughly discredited” for many reasons including that the bulk of the best lands were taken by railroads, mining companies, land companies, and speculators and that the costs of homesteading were prohibitive for eastern wage earners. He similarly pointed out that heterogeneity “may well . . . have brought . . . more strength than weakness to the United States labor and radical movement”; that the “rise of mass, ‘non aristocratic,’ industrial unions has not broken the basic pattern of opposition to a workers party, on the part of the leaders”; and that the “‘language problem’ in labor agitating and organizing never really posed any insurmountable obstacle.”

He then focused on what he described as “two basic and irrefutable themes.” First, whatever the state of class consciousness may have been most of the time, “there have been occasional periods of widespread and violent eruption of radical thought and action on the part of the workers and poor farmers, white and black.” He cited Black labor's valiant Reconstruction struggle; the Exodus of 1879; the “year of violence” in 1877 marked by “fiery revolts at every major terminal point across the country”; the period from “bloody Haymarket” in 1886 to the Pullman strike of 1894 during which “the U.S. army was called upon no less than 328 times to suppress labor's struggles”; the Populists of the same period when Black and white poor farmers “joined hands for an instant in the South” and when Middle Western farmers decided to “raise less corn and more hell!”; and the labor struggles of the 1930's marked by sit down strikes and the establishment of industrial unionism. Allen emphasized that in such times “any proposal to discuss the relative backwardness of the United States workers and poor farmers would have had a ring of unreality.” He reasoned, “if, in such crises, the cause of labor was consistently defeated by force and cooptation; if no permanent advance of class consciousness in the form of a third, anti capitalist, party was achieved . . . there must have been reasons more relevant than ‘free land’ that you couldn't get; ‘free votes’ that you couldn't cast, or couldn't get counted; or ‘high wages’ for jobs you couldn't find or . . . the rest of the standard rationale.”

His second, “irrefutable” theme was that each of the facts of life in the classical consensus had to be “decisively altered when examined in the light of the centrality of the question of white supremacy and of the white skin privileges of the white workers.” He again reasoned, “‘Free land,’ ‘constitutional liberties,’ ‘immigration,’ ‘high wages,’ ‘social mobility,’ ‘aristocracy of labor’” were “all, white skin privileges” and “whatever their effect upon the thinking of white workers may be said to be, the same cannot be claimed in the case of the Negro.”

Hubert Harrison:
The Voice of
Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918

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