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Jeffrey B. Perry Blog

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

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


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On May 1, 1912, International Workers Day Hubert Harrison Spoke Before 50,000 People at the May Day Rally at Union Square, New York City

105 Years Ago -- On May 1, 1912, International Workers Day, Hubert Harrison, one of the featured English language speakers of the Socialist Party, spoke at the May Day rally at Union Square (New York City) which, according to the New York Times, was attended by "some 50,000 organized workers, men and women, wearing the bright red of socialism as the world wide band of labor."
For information on Harrison’s life see “Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918” (Columbia University Press). For comments on that work by scholars and activists CLICK HERE

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Hubert Harrison The Voice of Harlem Radicalism Jeffrey B. Perry St. Croix, 19 July 2016 You Tube Video

Hubert Harrison, The Voice of Harlem Radicalism - Jeffrey B. Perry, St. Croix, 19 July 2016



Hubert Harrison, “The Voice of Harlem Radicalism.” Presentation by Jeffrey B. Perry at the St. Croix Landmarks Society Event “Coming Home to St. Croix,” at Estate Whim, St. Croix, July 19, 2016.

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

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; edited "The New Negro: A Monthly Magazine of a Different Sort" ("intended as an organ of the international consciousness of the darker races -- especially of the Negro race") in 1919; wrote "When Africa Awakes: The 'Inside Story' of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World" in 1920; and he served as 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 and common people 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 the key link in the ideological unity of 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 father was a Garveyite preacher and whose mother wrote for the Negro World), speaking militantly and proudly on street corners in Harlem.

Harrison was also an immensely skilled and popular orator and educator; a highly praised journalist, critic, and book reviewer; a pioneer Black activist in the freethought and birth control movements; and a bibliophile and library builder and popularizer who helped develop the 135th Street Public Library into what is now the internationally famous Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Special Thanks to Mrs. Sonia Jacobs Dow, Executive Director, St. Croix Landmarks Society; Naeemah Legair, Communications Intern, St. Croix Landmarks Society; Mary Roebuck, Volunteer, St. Croix Landmarks Society; George F. Tyson, Historian; Douglas Canton, “Reflections,” WSTX 970 AM; David Christian, “Its Your Perspective Talk Show,” WSTX 970 AM; Campbell “Ras Soup” Carter, “Its Your Perspective Talk Show,” WSTX 970 AM; Victor Edney, Jr., Audio System, Recording; Chalana Brown, Photography; and again, a very special thanks to Douglas Canton for Videography, Composition and Editing.

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 information on "A Hubert Harrison Reader" (Wesleyan University Press) CLICK HERE

For information on the new, expanded, Diasporic Africa Press edition of Hubert H. Harrison's “When Africa Awakes: The 'Inside Story’ of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World” CLICK HERE

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

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

For more on Harrison and on the work of Theodore W. Allen see "The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy" available at top left HERE (top left) and HERE

For “Hubert Harrison, Theodore W. Allen, and the Centrality of the Struggle Against White Supremacy” by Jeffrey B. Perry CLICK HERE

For those interested in a video on Theodore W. Allen's work, which focuses on "The Invention of the White Race," especially Volume II: "The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America" CLICK HERE
and CLICK HERE
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Hubert Harrison “The Voice of Harlem Radicalism” Presentation by Jeffrey B. Perry St. Croix Landmarks Society “Coming Home to St. Croix” Estate Whim, St. Croix, July 19, 2016




Hubert Harrison, “The Voice of Harlem Radicalism.” Presentation at the St. Croix Landmarks Society Event “Coming Home to St. Croix,” at Estate Whim, St. Croix, July 19, 2016. CLICK HERE Just Released!

St. Croix-born, Harlem-based Harrison (1883-1927) is one of the most important radical thinker/activists of 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 “perhaps the foremost Aframerican intellect of his time” and “one of America’s greatest minds.” Labor and civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph described Harrison as “the father of Harlem Radicalism.” Bibliophile Arthur Schomburg, fully aware of his popularity, eulogized to the thousands attending Harrison’s Harlem funeral that he was also “ahead of his time.” He has much to offer us today!

Special Thanks to Mrs. Sonia Jacobs Dow, Executive Director, St. Croix Landmarks Society; Naeemah Legair, Communications Intern, St. Croix Landmarks Society; Mary Roebuck, Volunteer, St. Croix Landmarks Society; George F. Tyson, Historian; Douglas Canton, “Reflections,” WSTX 970 AM; David Christian, “Its Your Perspective Talk Show,” WSTX 970 AM; Campbell “Ras Soup” Carter, “Its Your Perspective Talk Show,” WSTX 970 AM; Victor Edney, Jr., Audio System, Recording; Chalana Brown, Photography; and again, a very special thanks to Douglas Canton for Videography, Composition and Editing.

For a video interview with Theodore W. Allen on “The Invention of the White Race” conducted by Stella Winston and viewed by over 10,000 people CLICK HERE
For comments from scholars and activists on "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" (Columbia University Press) CLICK HERE

For information on "A Hubert Harrison Reader" (Wesleyan University Press) CLICK HERE

For information on the new, expanded, Diasporic Africa Press edition of Hubert H. Harrison's “When Africa Awakes: The 'Inside Story’ of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World” CLICK HERE

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

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

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Contents "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



Table of Contents


Epigraph
Introduction
  Hubert Harrison
  Theodore W. Allen
  Harrison and Allen and the Centrality of the Struggle Against White-Supremacy
Some Class and Racial Aspects of The Conjuncture
  Deepening Economic Crisis
  U.S. Workers Faring Badly
  White Supremacist Shaping
  Wisconsin
  Millions are Suffering and Conditions are Worsening
Insights from Hubert Harrison
  Arrival in America, Contrast with St. Croix
  Socialist Party Writings
  “Southernism or Socialism – which?”
  The Socialist Party Puts [the “White”] Race First and Class After
  Class Consciousness, White Supremacy, and the "Duty to Champion the Cause of the Negro"
  On “The Touchstone” and the Two-Fold Character of Democracy in America
  Concentrated Race-Conscious Work in the Black Community
  Capitalist Imperialism and the Need to Break Down Exclusion Walls of White Workers
  The International Colored Unity League
  Struggle Against White Supremacy is Central
Insights from Theodore W. Allen
  Early Research and Writings and Pioneering Use of “White Skin Privilege” Concept
  White Blindspot
  Why No Socialism? . . . and The Main Retardant to Working Class Consciousness
  The Role of White Supremacy in Three Previous Crises
  The Great Depression . . . and the White Supremacist Response
  Response to Four Arguments Against and Five “Artful Dodges”
  Early 1970s Writings and Strategy
  “The Invention of the White Race”
  Other Important Contributions in Writings on the Colonial Period
  Inventing the “White Race” and Fixing “a perpetual Brand upon Free Negros”
  Political Economic Aspects of the Invention of the “White Race”
  Racial Oppression and National Oppression
  “Racial Slavery” and “Slavery”
  Male Supremacy, Gender Oppression, and Laws Affecting the Family
  Slavery as Capitalism, Slaveholders as Capitalists, Enslaved as Proletarians
  Class-Conscious, Anti-White Supremacist Counter Narrative – Comments on Jordan and Morgan
  Not Simply a Social Construct, But a Ruling Class Social Control Formation . . . and Comments on Roediger
  The “White Race” and “White Race” Privilege
  On the Bifurcation of “Labor History” and “Black History” and on the “National Question”
  Later Writings . . . “Toward a Revolution in Labor History”
Strategy
The Struggle Ahead

Addendum [re “Daedalus”]


This article originally appeared in the July 2010 issue of Cultural Logic edited by Joseph G. Ramsey with the assistance of David Siar.

To read the article CLICK HERE and go to top left,

or CLICK HERE.

To read the article without downloading a PDF CLICK HERE!

For information on “Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918” (Columbia University Press) CLICK HERE

For writings by and about Hubert Harrison CLICK HERE

For a video presentation on Hubert Harrison, "The Father of Harlem Radicalism," who is discussed at the beginning of this video CLICK HERE

For information on Theodore W. Allen's "The Invention of the White Race" (Verso Books) CLICK HERE

For additional writings by and about Theodore W. Allen CLICK HERE

For a video presentation on Theodore W. Allen's "The Invention of the White Race," which draws insights from the life and work of Hubert Harrison CLICK HERE
For key insights from Theodore W. Allen on U.S. Labor History CLICK HERE


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Enslaved Black Laborers as Proletarians Comments from Hubert Harrison, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Theodore W. Allen




Enslaved Black Laborers as Proletarians
Comments from
Hubert Harrison, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Theodore W. Allen
Excerpts from a Slide Presentation by Jeffrey B. Perry


For a discussion of this topic see the article “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, HERE

For information on Hubert Harrison CLICK HERE
and CLICK HERE

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

For a short video of Theodore W. Allen CLICK HERE

This video introduction to Hubert Harrison is part of a five-part presentation series on Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen. This segment was videoed on July 26, 2014 by Fred Nguyen of Fan Smiles.

For information on Theodore W. Allen CLICK HERE

For a Slide Presentation/Talk on Theodore W. Allen’s “The Invention of the White Race” CLICK HERE

For information on Jeffrey B. Perry CLICK HERE

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Theodore W. Allen On Three Previous Periods of National Crisis And Ruling-Class Response by Appeals to White Supremacism



“(In) three periods of national crisis [Civil War and Reconstruction, Populist Revolt of 1890s, and the Great Depression of the 1930s] characterized by general confrontations between capital and urban and rural laboring classes . . . The key to the defeat of the forces of democracy, labor and socialism was in each case achieved by ruling-class appeals to white supremacism, basically by fostering white-skin privileges of laboring-class European-Americans.”

--Theodore W. Allen--
--“Introduction” to “The Kernel and the Meaning:
A Contribution to a Proletarian Critique of United States History," 2003--


For more on this topic see "The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy" at the top left HERE

For a video presentation on Theodore W. Allen's "The Invention of the White Race," which draws insights from the life and work of Hubert Harrison CLICK HERE

For key insights from Theodore W. Allen on U.S. Labor History CLICK HERE

For additional writings by and about Theodore W. Allen CLICK HERE

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

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!

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Jeffrey B. Perry, letter to "Labor" re Brian Kelly, "No Easy Way Through: Race Leadership and Black Workers at the Nadir”

November 19, 2010

To the Editor of Labor:

This letter is in response to Brian Kelly’s Review Essay “No Easy Way Through: Race Leadership and Black Workers at the Nadir” (Labor, Fall 2010). It seeks to correct an error in Kelly’s use of a quote in the review, re-insert key words that Kelly truncates from a Hubert Harrison quote, call attention to important Harrison insights regarding strategic direction and the “white race” that are not mentioned by Kelly, correct an editorial process omission by Labor and a related Kelly quote that remains in the text, and offer reasons why each of these matters is important.

Harrison’s Move to The Left Within the Social Party

On p. 199 of Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1912, the first volume of my two-volume Harrison biography, in a chapter entitled “Socialist Writer and Speaker (1912),” I conclude the chapter with the following paragraph:

Throughout 1912 there were constant themes in Harrison’s political agita¬tion. These included support for the IWW, support for industrial unionism and economic organizing, support for sabotage and direct action, challenges to or¬ganized religion, calls for special organizing efforts aimed at African Americans, and opposition to white supremacy. He was increasingly identified with the left wing of the party, and during the year he faced major rebuffs on the race ques¬tion with the demise of the Colored Socialist Club and with the SP’s white-race-first theoretical pronouncements. As he continually studied and agitated, he was repeatedly confronted with the white supremacism in the SP, and he moved further to the left. As he manifested more and more political independence and advocated his views openly, it became increasingly likely that he would face con¬flict within the ever-tightening structure of the Socialist Party.

I open the next chapter, “Dissatisfaction with the Party (1913-1914),” with the following paragraph on page 200:

From late 1912 through 1914, Hubert Harrison agitated for the IWW brand of socialism as opposed to the more right-wing type advocated by most of the Socialist Party leadership. His left-wing sympathies were demonstrated in his speeches; in his defense of sabotage; and in his support of “Big Bill” Haywood, the Paterson, N.J., silk strikers, and arrested IWW activists. He was increasingly disenchanted with the party’s position on the “Negro problem” and its gener¬ally conservative approach to the “economic” organization of workers. In addi¬tion, he was attracted to the IWW-style direct action, which he thought could be used (and fifty years later, in the form of sit-ins, marches, boycotts, freedom rides, strikes, etc., was used) to reach the discriminated against and often dis¬franchised Black masses.


In Kelly’s review (on pp. 89-90) he writes, regarding events “after 1914,” that Perry presents this as a shift “further to the left” (199), but on his own evidence Harrison’s trajectory seems more complicated.”
Kelly has taken my quote related to 1912, applied it to events “after1914,” and then suggested that my analysis is faulty.
In fact, my analysis is correct and Kelly’s insertion of my quote “after 1914” is in error.

Offering a New Strategic Direction for the Socialist Party

During his time in the Socialist Party Harrison worked tirelessly for socialism. He was a prominent and frequent speaker, delivered as many as twenty-plus talks in a week, spoke to a rapt audience on socialism for three hours on Wall Street in front of the Stock Exchange, toured upstate New York and Connecticut, campaigned vigorously for Eugene V. Debs, and addressed the Paterson, NJ strikers. He founded the Colored Socialist Club, which drew on the work of women’s clubs and foreign language federations and sought to make special efforts to reach Black people with socialism’s message. He also wrote a major theoretical series on “The Negro and Socialism” in the New York Call and important articles on that topic in the International Socialist Review.
He did more, however. At a time when the main debate within the Socialist Party was whether socialism would come by evolutionary or revolutionary means, Harrison proposed a new litmus test, a new crucial test for U.S. socialists, the duty “to champion the cause of the Negro.” To the evolutionary socialists who wanted to elect people to office and change laws, he emphasized that they needed Black voters; and to the revolutionary socialists who wanted militant strikes and a seizure of power, he emphasized that they needed Black workers. For Harrison, the fight against white supremacy was central in the struggle for socialism and he pointedly asked in a major article before the 1912 SP Convention, “Southernism or Socialism – which?” He explained that “politically the Negro is the touchstone of the modern democratic idea” and that true equality and democracy implies “a revolution . . . startling to even think of.” From 1912, until his departure in 1914, he moved to the left within the Socialist Party and tried to point the way forward in a new strategic direction. He also came to a profound conclusion, which unfortunately is missed entirely in Kelly’s review.

The “white race” – Principal Roadblock

In Hubert Harrison (p. 7) I explain that “Socialist Party theory and practice—including segregated locals in the South, the party’s refusal to route the campaign of the 1912 presidential candidate, Eugene V. Debs (who insisted that his audiences be integrated), in Southern states, white-supremacist positions on Asian immigration at the 1912 national convention, and the failure to politically and economically support the CSC [Colored Socialist Club—ed.] — led Harrison to conclude that Socialist Party leaders, like organized labor, put the white “race first and class after.”
Elsewhere (p. 187), I discuss how Harrison would later cite passages from the 1912 convention majority report on Asian immigration as he emphasized the necessity for African Americans to develop race consciousness and to put “race first.” He would call for race consciousness as a protective reaction, as a means of defense, against the “white-race”-first sentiments that permeated U.S. society and the labor and socialist movements. As long as racist whites put “white race” interests first, he would argue, there was a need for Black people to develop race consciousness and to similarly put “race first.”
I then discuss (pp. 187-188) the overall relation between white supremacy and class consciousness in the United States and how the work of Theodore W. Allen, author of the two-volume The Invention of the White Race, gives deeper meaning to Harrison’s theoretical work:

Hubert Harrison was suggest¬ing that a primary reason for limited working-class consciousness and for the absence of socialism in the United States was white supremacy. Within a few years, he would more forcefully articulate that it was because “white” workers and socialists put race first before class. This is an extremely important and pro¬found analysis. Over time, Harrison would respond by stressing that race con¬sciousness among African Americans was necessary not only as a measure of self-defense but also as a means of challenging white supremacy, which was the principal roadblock to class consciousness among European American workers and the principal roadblock to socialism.

I also discuss (p. 443) how Allen describes “the development of the ‘white race’ as a ruling-class social control formation” and I note (p. 462) that Allen maintained “the key to the defeat of labor and popular forces” in the United States has historically been the theory and the practice of white supremacy.
Quite simply, as I argue in a forthcoming Daedalus article, “When Harrison left the Party he offered what is arguably the most profound, but least heeded criticism, in U.S. left history. He stated simply, that the Socialist Party [like the labor movement] has “insisted on [white] Race First and class after”; that it put “[the white] race first, before class.”
Regarding this “white race” -- Allen is insightful. I explain in my introduction to the reprinted edition of Allen’s 1975 pamphlet Class Struggle and the Origin of Racial Slavery: The Invention of the White Race ( http://clogic.eserver.org/2006/allen.html ) that Allen posits:
1. The "white race" was invented as a ruling class social control formation in response to labor unrest as manifested in the latter (civil war) stages of Bacon's Rebellion (1676-77).
2. A system of racial privileges was deliberately instituted in order to define and establish the "white race."
3. The consequence was not only ruinous to the interests of the African American workers, but was also "disastrous" . . . for the “white” worker.

More pointedly, Allen argues that the “white race,” “this all-class association of European-Americans held together by 'racial' privileges conferred on laboring class European-Americans relative to African-Americans--[has served] as the principal historic guarantor of ruling-class domination of national life" in the United States”; that “the main barrier to class consciousness” in the U.S. is “the incubus of ‘white’ identity of the European-American” and that “’white race’ solidarity” has been “the country’s most general form of class collaborationism.”
Though Kelly did not mention the “white race” in his review, it is hoped that readers will appreciate how insights from Harrison and Allen on the “white race” offer important keys to understanding U.S. labor history. Both Harrison and Allen emphasized that white supremacy was the principal retardant to social change efforts in the U.S. and that struggle against white supremacy was central to social change. Neither Harrison, nor Allen saw anything progressive in concepts such as “white men’s jobs,” “white” only unions, and the “white race” – and this becomes important in addressing a quotation that Kelly truncates.

A Truncated Quote – and “a real organization of labor”

After casually dismissing my correct analysis regarding Harrison’s move “further to the left” while he was still in the Socialist Party, Kelly, in the same paragraph, describes how, after leaving the Socialist Party, “Harrison came out publicly in favor of ‘join[ing] hands with the capitalists’ to ‘scab [the AFL] out of existence. (309).” Kelly then casually adds – “his proposal was one that would neither have solved the plight of black workers nor eased racial antagonism.”
Harrison’s actual quote, which Kelly truncates, is significant --“Join hands with the capitalists and scab them [the AFL] out of existence—not in the name of scabbery, but in the name of a real organization of labor.”
Harrison wanted to help build “a real organization of labor.” His quote appeared in a 1917 editorial that was written after a series of vicious attacks on the African American community of East St. Louis, Illinois, which left from 40 to 250 dead and destroyed, or partially destroyed, some 244 buildings. These attacks on the African American community were widely attributed to “white” labor’s opposition to Black labor coming into the labor market. W.S. Carter, President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Engineers claimed that “evidently the purpose of the railroads in importing Negro labor is to destroy the influence of white men’s labor organizations” and AFL President Samuel Gompers placed principal blame for the riots on “the excessive and abnormal number of negroes in East St. Louis.” Harrison’s clearly felt that “white men’s labor organizations,” racially exclusionary AFL unions, and the racist statements of Gompers and Carter, did not represent the type of “real organization of labor” that was needed.
Harrison was quite clear that the words and actions of Gompers and Carter were, to use Kelly’s phrase, words and actions that “would neither have solved the plight of black workers nor eased racial antagonism.” Rather than truncating and dismissing what Harrison says, I think we should learn from it.

Hubert Harrison Was a Working Class Intellectual/Activist Intimately Involved with the Working Class

Regarding Labor’s editorial process -- on October 28, 2010, Kelly wrote to me that in his corrections to the proofs he had submitted to the Press was the following:

Page 91, Line 33: insert to read as below
[new paragraph]
‘Collectively these studies reveal the limitations of biography as a genre. With the exception of Perry’s study, they touch upon broad trends among the working-class majority of African American only occasionally. More often they illuminate the gulf between leaders and the led. Nevertheless, a number of salient points emerge from these overlapping stories of race leadership at the nadir....’

Kelly apologized to me for the omission and explained, that “for reasons I do not yet understand, they [the Press] neglected to incorporate” the “relevant changes to the text,” which had been submitted.
Whatever the reason for the omission, I hope that the Press will take steps to see that such omissions do not happen in the future.
The record should also be corrected in this matter since as Kelly’s article now stands – his statement (p. 92) about “the conspicuous disconnect between prominent race leaders and a hard-pressed black working class at the nadir” simply is not true in Harrison’s case.
Hubert Harrison was a working class intellectual/activist rooted deeply among Black working class people. He worked as a bellhop, porter, and postal worker, he joined the self-proclaimed “party of the working class,” he lived on the most densely populated block in Harlem, he spoke at the Paterson strike and in support of the IWW, he organized for the Pullman Porters and Hotel Workers, and he was constantly lecturing in working class forums. Working class issues and themes are treated throughout Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918.


With all best wishes,
Dr. Jeffrey B. Perry
www.jeffreybperry.net

For additional information on Hubert Harrison see: http://www.jeffreybperry.net/_center_3__hubert_harrison__br_life__legacy___some_writings__center___font___fon_86150.htm
For additional information on Theodore W. Allen see: http://www.jeffreybperry.net/_center_4__theodore_w__allen__font___font__br__with_audio_and_video_links__86151.htm
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