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Jeffrey B. Perry Blog
Hubert Harrison: "The Voice of Harlem Radicalism" with Dr. Jeffrey B. Perry Feb 1, 2022 07:00 PM Eastern Time Join Zoom Meeting
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Gerald Horne - "Few books are capable of carrying the profound weight of being deemed to be a classic – this is surely one. Indeed, if one has to read one book to provide a foundation for understanding the contemporary U.S. – read this one."
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz -"A must-read for all social justice activists, teachers and scholars."
Available at 30% off from Verso Books - See Here
"The Life and Political Contributions of Hubert Harrison" by Brian Kwoba in “New Politics,” Winter 2022
The Life and Political Contributions
of Hubert Harrison
"New Politics," Vol. XVIII, No. 4, Winter 2022, 128-131
WITH THE COMPLETION OF HIS biography of Hubert Harrison, Jeffrey B. Perry has made a monumental contribution to our understanding of one of Black history's most important yet neglected figures. Hubert Henry Harrison (1883-1927) was the first Black figure in the Socialist Party of America to organize a Black-led multiracial party formation, the Colored Socialist Club. Harrison spearheaded the World War I-era "New Negro" movement by founding the Liberty League of Negro-Americans and The Voice newspaper. He inspired Marcus Garvey to build one of the largest international movements of Black people in history. Harrison also pioneered the tradition of street corner speaking in Harlem, which seeded the intellectually eclectic, grassroots, and African-centered community culture that endures there to this day. As Perry argues, "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 trends associated with Malcolm X" (Vol.1,5). Yet before Perry's work, Harrison's story was largely unknown. At last, we have a richly textured and two-volume scholarly biography that decisively restores to history a figure who made such important contributions to the Black radical tradition in the early twentieth century.
Perry's first volume features intensive genealogical work on Harrison's ancestry, deftly rendering the historical and economic backdrop for Harrison's birth on the Caribbean island of St. Croix in 1883 and his upbringing in the Danish colony that the United States would acquire during World War I.
Perry also sheds light on Harrison's migration to New York City in 1900, his early experiences in debate clubs and study groups, and his break with religion and role in the anti-religious Freethought movement, along with the fateful termination of Harrison's post office job by the "Tuskegee Machine" for his outspoken criticisms of Booker T. Washington.
The place where Perry's first volume perhaps shines brightest is in his treatment of Harrison's experience in the Socialist Party. Here we encounter the story of Harrison's trailblazing theoretical writings on "the Negro and Socialism," as well as his groundbreaking practical work founding and leading the Colored Socialist Club in Harlem. Failing to convince the party of the need for explicit anti-racist politics and special attention to recruiting African Americans for socialism, Harrison's radical positions on issues like IWW-style industrial unionism, direct action, and the Paterson Silk Strike eventually drew the ire of the white and politically moderate party leaders. They responded to Harrison's radicalism and racial arguments with, in his words, a "most contemptible form of persecution" (Vol. 1, 212).
As a socialist, Harrison had argued that due to the history of slavery, African Americans formed a group that was more essentially proletarian than any other Ameri- can group. He maintained that the capitalist class sustained racism and racial prejudice in order to keep wages low, strikes infrequent, and workers divided. If not organized as socialists, Black workers would thus be used against the labor movement to the detriment of Black and white workers. Therefore, for Harrison "the Negro" formed "the crucial test of Socialism's sincerity." In its 1912 convention the national party took the position that racial differences were due to biology rather than socio-economic factors, and the New York local censured Harrison and aborted his precious Colored Socialist Club. Harrison's experience led him to reconsider his faith in the capacity of the advocates of proletarian emancipation to manifest any substantive commitment to the most essentially proletarian group in the country. As Harlem-based historian John Henrik Clarke once quipped, Harrison "was a socialist until he discovered that most socialists are not true to the teachings of socialism."
After parting ways with the white radicals in the Socialist Party, Harrison devoted himself to organizing and empowering the Black community in his home neighborhood of Harlem. In response to President Woodrow Wilson's decision to take the United States into World War I in 1917, Harrison founded the Liberty League of Negro-Americans, which was the first wartime-era organization of the "New Negro" movement to emerge in Harlem. The League offered a Black radical alternative to the pro-war liberalism of the NAACP, and Harrison's journalism exposed and thereby aborted W.E.B. Du Bois' attempt to become an agent of U.S. military intelligence amid the patriotic fervor of World War I. Perry's first volume ends with the Liberty Congress of Negro-Americans, the historic convening of dissident and "New Negro" activists in Washington DC in 1918 that elected Harrison its chairman and petitioned for federal anti-lynching legislation, despite the heightened wartime state repression of the Espionage and Sedition Acts. What a story!
Perry continues in the second volume where the first left off, chronicling Harrison's travels to places like Virginia and Chicago, his work as a freelance educator, and the creation of his final organization effort in the form of the International Colored Unity League. Crucially, this volume also covers Harrison's relationship to Marcus Garvey, his time as editor of Garvey's Negro World newspaper, and his role as a left-wing voice within the Universal Negro Improvement Association. This is an area, among many others, where Perry's work is illuminating, particularly for the way in which his reconstruction of Harrison's life story and vantage point reveals new perspectives on the rise and fall of Marcus Garvey. Although Garvey's movement drew much inspiration from the model of Harrison's Liberty League, it ultimately came to embody an authoritarian form of Black nationalist capitalism and imperialism that repulsed Harrison and led to his departure from Marcus Garvey's employ—not to mention some very trenchant criticisms of Garvey. Summing up Harrison's significance to socialism and Garveyism, Perry writes memorably of how "in the period of the First World War, Harrison was the most class conscious of the race radicals, and the most race conscious of the class radicals" (Vol. 1, 17).
Although Perry is not the first person to write about Harrison or to try to preserve his legacy, the depth of this biography has surpassed all previous such efforts. Harrison contemporaries like J.A. Rogers and Richard B. Moore included Harrison in their writings about Black history and Harlem intellectual life. In the 1980s, historians like Wilfred Samuels and Portia James published the first academic journal articles on Harrison. Since then, other scholars have written a Harrison-inclusive article or book chapter here and there. Unfortunately, all of these works have been exceptions to the general rule of Harrison's near-erasure from mainstream history and memory. For example, a recent book surveying 400 years of African American history by Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. makes no mention of Hubert Harrison. Similarly, the University of Oxford's five-volume Encyclopedia of African American History mentions his name only four times and only in passing. And there has been no book-length biography of Harrison ... until Perry.
As a result, it has been a Herculean effort to recover Harrison, and the amount of labor Perry devoted to this objective is truly awe-inspiring. In the early 1980s, Perry wrote a PhD thesis on Harrison, in the course of which he built a relationship with Harrison's descendants. They gave him access to a whole trove of Harrison's papers, including his diaries, scrapbooks, correspondence, and various published and unpublished writings. In 2001, Perry edited and published A Hubert Harrison Reader. Then Perry compiled, sorted, organized, cataloged, and donated the papers to Columbia University, laying the basis for what is now the Hubert H. Harrison col- lection, much of which is accessible online. Drawing on this unique set of sources, Perry has rendered the chronology of Harrison's life in stunning detail. Indeed, the biography achieves a standard of rigor and meticulous- ness that only his nearly forty years of research could produce.
One question inevitably arises in studying Harrison: Why has he been so marginalized in history and memory? As Perry explains, "Harrison was poor, Black, foreign-born, and from the Caribbean. Each of these groups has suffered from significant discrimination in the United States and limited inclusion in the historical record." Not only that, but Harrison opposed capitalism, white supremacy, and the Christian church—dominant forces of the most powerful society in the world. ... Though he worked with many organizations and played important roles in several key ones, he had no long-term, sustaining, and identifying relationship with any [single] organization or institution, and so lacked the recognition and support that would have come with such a tie." (Vol. 1, 13)
And finally, "Harrison's willingness to directly challenge prominent leaders and organizations in left and African American circles stung many of the individuals ... and groups ... most likely to keep his memory alive" (Vol. 1, 14). That Harrison could remain so obscure for so long is also testament to how pervasive the very power structures that Harrison was contesting in the early twentieth century have remained, including their role in shaping how historiography is done.
Perry's recounting of so many details of Harrison's personal chronology sometimes leaves the reader wanting more emphasis on analysis that could draw out the deeper meaning of those details. For example, in Vol. 2 (613) we learn that in 1924, Harrison met an aging Ida B. Wells-Barnett in Chicago and was given a cordial reception at her home. Yet we get only one sentence about it. One wonders whether more could have been said about the significance of Wells-Barnett's own groundbreaking role in spearheading the anti- lynching movement in which Harrison and so many others would come to labor. Similarly, one wonders what political or intellectual fruits came (or might have come) out of this historic crossing of paths between two titans of the Black radical tradition. Contextual perspectives like these could help form an even fuller appreciation of the significance of the details that Perry's biography chronicles.
Nevertheless, Perry's decisive and incontrovertible historical restoration of such a towering influence as Harrison invites both scholars and activists alike to rethink the meaning of Black political and intellectual traditions upon which Harrison's restoration has bearing. As prime example, I myself began an exploration that is culminating in the writing of my on book on Harrison. Thanks to Perry's work, I am able to use Harrison and his vantage point as a vehicle through which to rethink themes like Black Marxism, Black (inter)nationalism, Black Freethought and the church, African-centered knowledge is the diaspora, Black masculinity and sexuality, and the "Harlem Renaissance." These are subjects whose discussions and reference points have too often neglected Harrison, despite his unique theoretical, practical, and at times contradictory contributions to them. Perry's tribute is indispensable for understanding the great stimulus Harrison's example contributes toward an expanded "sense of possibility" for Black liberation, both in Harrison's time and in ours.
BRIAN KWOBA is an assistant professor of history at the University of Memphis.
Theodore W. Allen's Work on the Centrality of Struggle Against White Supremacy "Growing in Importance on 17th Anniversary of His Death
Theodore W. Allen's Work on Centrality of Struggle Against White Supremacy Growing in Importance on 17th Anniversary of His Death
Dr. Jeffrey B. Perry
Theodore W. "Ted" Allen (August 23, 1919-January 19, 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 where he worked various jobs including as a postal worker at the Bulk Mail Center in Jersey City, NJ and as a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library.
"The Invention of the White Race"
Allen's two-volume "The Invention of the White Race" (Verso Books, 1994, 1997; new expanded edition 2012; and new consolidated (2 vols. in 1) edition (January 2022) 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 racial 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, subtitled "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 "White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812". The second argument is associated with historian Edmund S. Morgan's "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 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" (2010, see below) describes key components of Allen's analysis of "white race" privilege. It 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."
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.
Those interested in learning more of the work of Theodore W. Allen can see: 1) writings, audios, and videos by and about Theodore W. Allen; 2) comments from scholars and activists and Table of Contents for "The Invention of the White Race Vol. I: Racial Oppression and Social Control"; 3) comments from scholars and activists and Table of Contents on "The Invention of the White Race Vol. II: The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America" [Verso Books]; and "The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy."
Dr. Jeffrey B. Perry is the author of "Hubert Harrison, The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" (Columbia University Press, 2008) and "Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality, 1918-1927" (Columbia University Press, November 2020). He is also the editor of, and wrote "Introductions" for "A Hubert Harrison Reader" (Wesleyan University Press, 2001); Theodore W. Allen's "The Invention of the White Race" Vol. 1: "Racial Oppression and Social Control" (New Edition, Verso Books 2012); Theodore W. Allen's "The Invention of the White Race" Vol. 2: "The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America" (New Edition, Verso Books 2012); Allen's "The Invention of the White Race" (consolidated, 2 volumes in 1, Edition Verso Books, 2022) and Hubert H. Harrison, "When Africa Awakes: The 'Inside Story' of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World" (New Edition, Diasporic Africa Press, 2015).
BOOK REVIEW: Review of The "Invention of the White Race" Volume I: "Racial Oppression and Social Control" and Volume II: "The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo America" by Theodore William Allen (1994, 1997, New Expanded Edition, Verso 2012)
Sean Ahern - August 28, 2013
"I ask indulgence for only one assumption, namely that while some people may desire to be masters, all persons are born equally unwilling and unsuited to be slaves." The Invention of the White Race (I, 1).
Theodore W. Allen's The Invention of the White Race (2 Vols., I: Racial Oppression and Social Control and II: The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America), has been recognized by increasing numbers of scholars and activists as a seminal work since it was first published by Verso Books in the 1990s. The second edition offers a number of entry points and is designed to attract a broader audience. It features an expanded index, an internal study guide, a selected bibliography and a biographical sketch of the author all prepared by Jeffrey B. Perry, Allen's literary executor and author of the acclaimed Hubert Harrison The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918, and editor of A Hubert Harrison Reader. The Invention of the White Race is a scrupulously documented, fairly argued, and profoundly radical history. Given the central place that race occupies in the corporate assault on public education and teacher unions, it will be of particular interest to readers of Substance, educators, students and working people interested in understanding the role of white supremacism and the white identity in the defeat of popular movements in our nation's history. It contains the root of a general theory of United States history and the basis for a revolution in US labor history and in social history. Students of African American history, political economy, Irish American history, gender studies and colonial history will find in Allen's work much of interest to recommend. For those considering the projected impact of demographic change in the 21st century, The Invention offers a lens through which to assess how the "white race" was invented and reinvented in the past and the ways in which ruling class-interests may seek to adjust, adapt or reinvent it in the present. After 300 years of functioning as a ruling class social control buffer, the US bourgeoisie will not, in this writer's opinion, willingly abandon its tried and trusted guardian, the so called "white race."
Genesis of the thesis
Theodore Allen.Allen's view of the history of class struggle in the U.S. was radically altered by his reading of W.E.B. Du Bois's Black Reconstruction in the early1960's. Dubois described Black Reconstruction as a "normal working class movement, successful to an unusual degree, despite all disappointments and failures." Its final defeat was due to "the race philosophy" of white supremacy, which made labor-unity or labor class-consciousness impossible. Together with Esther Kusic, to whom the Invention is dedicated, Allen developed a new approach that placed the struggle against white supremacy and the white skin privilege system at the center of a strategy for proletarian revolution in the US.
Two quotations from Black Reconstruction identify key sparks of insight that eventually led Allen to write The Invention of the White Race:
"The south, after the war [Civil War], presented the greatest opportunity for a real national labor movement which the nation ever saw or is likely to see for many decades. Yet the labor movement, with but few exceptions, never realized the situation. It never had the intelligence or knowledge, as a whole, to see in black slavery and reconstruction, the kernel and meaning of the labor movement in the United States." [emphasis added]
"It is only the Blind spot in the eyes of America, and its historians, that can overlook and misread so clean and encouraging a chapter of human struggle and human uplift."
Allen came to refer to that "Blind spot" identified by Du Bois as the "white blindspot." Recognition of the "white blindspot" was a critical first step that led Allen to develop his thesis on the invention of the "white race."
Informed by Dubois's Black Reconstruction and his reference to the "kernel and meaning of the labor movement in the United States," Allen set out in the late-1960's to re-examine three previous periods of economic crises and intensified class struggle: 1) the Civil War and Reconstruction, 2) the Populist Movement and 3) the Great Depression. His aim was to discern the effects of the white skin privilege system and the prevalence of white chauvinism in the defeat of past working class and populist movements. Allen took Du Bois' phrase "the kernel and meaning" as the title for his own unpublished manuscript that set forth his findings. He shared this manuscript with comrades in the late sixties and early 70's. This background provides some context to The Invention as it led Allen to a critical review of what he termed the reigning consensus on "American Exceptionalism." This is in reference to a body of work that offered explanations, all "white blind" in Allen's estimation, for why there was no working class-based political alternative to the bourgeois parties. Contributors to this "consensus" included socialists and non-socialist students of labor history. Although the old 'consensus' was tattered, no alternative had yet emerged. The Invention may be viewed in this context as Allen's opening contribution "Toward a Revolution in U.S. Labor History." In fact this was the working title of Allen's last book, which he did not live to complete.
The debate over the origin of "anti-negro prejudice" in the US was a central preoccupation of many American historians, not only African American historians, since racism first came to be viewed by much of official society as an evil in itself following World War II. The Civil Rights movement and urban rebellions made racial discrimination a central defining issue in the political life of the nation; a central issue that continues down to the present day. Some of America's most prominent historians participated in a search for understanding how white supremacy and racial oppression originated in the hope that we might in fact end it. It came to be known as the "Origins Debate." [Note Allen preferred the singular "Origin," which he used in the subtitle to volume two. He saw the origin of racial oppression in class struggle.]
By 1968 with the forces of white supremacy rallying around the George Wallace campaign and other instances of the "white backlash" north and south (which the 1968 NYC teachers strike is a particularly tragic example of) "so from the ranks of American historians there emerged a cohort of defenders of the basic validity of the old assumption of 'natural racism'" (Allen, Invention, I, 4) The fullest expression of this view was put forward by Winthrop D. Jordan in his 1968 book entitled White over Black: American Attitudes Towards the Negro 1550-1812. Jordan's book was offered in the context of the "Origins Debate" to refute the thesis of Oscar and Mary Handlin that racism was a deliberately contrived ruling class policy rather than the outcome of some inborn or preconditioned "race consciousness." Chapter 2 of White Over Black was entitled "An Unthinking Decision" and in it Jordan attributed racism to an inherent, timeless aversion to all things black that existed in the psychological and cultural make up of the English.
The breadth of the counter revolution as evidenced by the well orchestrated "backlash" in the intellectual and political life of the nation led Allen to a comprehensive review of the "Origins Debate" and a more probing consideration of what he came to describe in the volumes under consideration as the invention of the "white race" and the "incubus of white identity."
As an independent scholar, autodidact, and self-described proletarian intellectual, Allen joined this search in the early 1970s. His startling thesis first presented at a 1974 talk before the Union for Radical Political Economics (URPE) was published in Radical America and republished with complete annotation as a pamphlet under the title "Class Struggle and the Origin of Racial Slavery: The Invention of the White Race." This is available on line at Cultural Logic and in pamphlet form from the Institute for the Study of Working Class Life at SUNY Stony Brook. It serves the new reader well as a concise introduction to volume two of The Invention of the White Race in particular. Over the course of the next twenty years of writing and researching The Invention of the White Race, Allen reviewed a remarkable amount of the scholarly literature and conducted his own exhaustive examination of the primary sources; those colonial records that survived the Civil War.
Allen's thesis on the invention of the white race is based on certain key historical facts that came into focus for him once his own "white blind spot" was removed. In the acknowledgements section of volume one Allen identifies in first place his "obligation to two fellow proletarian intellectuals in this regard; Charles Johnson and William Carlotti who "cleared away ideological barnacles left from my previous moorings and taught me to say, as Carlotti did, 'I am not 'white.'" (Note here may be made of Allen's reference to his own past. Allen was a West Virginia coal miner and UMW local leader during the heyday of the CIO and a member of the Communist Party from 1936 until the mid-late 50s. Perry's biographical essay on Allen is appended to volume one.)
Allen's thesis posits a causal connection between the "so-called 'white race,' the quintessential 'Peculiar Institution" and bourgeois social control extending from the colonial era to the present:
Only by understanding what was peculiar about the Peculiar Institution [the "white race"] can one know what is exceptionable about American Exceptionalism; know how in normal times, the ruling class has been able to operate without "laborite" disguises; and know how, in critical times, democratic new departures have been frustrated by reinventions of the "white race."
Allen's thesis is not based on his discovery of any formerly unknown facts. Rather it is his claim that certain aspects of the historical record of great significance were passed over while others of truly minor significance were incorrectly emphasized as the impetus for massive, misdirected scholarly tomes such as was the case with Jordan's White Over Black. Additionally he points out that on certain crucial matters even so esteemed a scholar as Edmund Morgan cast a blind eye to facts of great significance in his American Slavery, American Freedom. These were related to the impact of racial slavery on the class position of the European American laborers after the invention of the "white race."
Allen's argument presented in his thesis article and fully elaborated in the two volumes rests, in his estimation, on: . . . three essential bearing points from which it cannot be toppled. First, that racial slavery constituted a ruling class response to a problem of labor solidarity. Second, that a system of racial privileges for the propertyless "whites" was deliberately instituted in order to align them on the side of the plantation bourgeoisie against the African-American bond laborers. Third, that the consequence was not only ruinous to the interests of the African-Americans, but was "disastrous" for the propertyless "whites" as well.
In Allen's review of the literature only the African American historian Lerone Bennett Jr. in his 1970 Ebony article, "The Road Not Taken," and in chapter III of The Shaping of Black America (Chicago 1975) had set these three bearing points together.
Allen's introduction to volume one is an excellent literature review of the "Origins Debate" for the specialist and non-specialist alike. He frames the debate as occurring between two groups; the psycho-cultural and the socio economic. Allen identifies "with" the socio economic category, but "is not altogether of them." "This book" Allen states, "is intended as a contribution toward freeing the socio-economic thesis" of "serious compromising ambiguities and inconsistencies." He recasts the socio-economic argument in "a new conceptual mode." This new mode is based on a definition of racial oppression.
Allen defines racial slavery in volume one "as a particular form of racial oppression, and racial oppression as a sociogenic – rather than a phylogenic – phenomenon, homologous with gender and class oppression." Allen expands this definition of racial oppression as it evolved in the colonial era through what he calls the "Irish Mirror." "Irish history presents a case of racial oppression without reference to alleged skin color…" "The assault upon the tribal affinities, customs, laws and institutions of the Africans, the American Indians and the Irish by English/British and Anglo American colonialism reduced all members of the oppressed group to one undifferentiated social status, a status beneath that of any member of any social class within the colonizing population. This is the hallmark of racial oppression in its colonial origins, and as it has persisted in subsequent historical contexts."
Allen distinguishes racial oppression from national oppression by reference to the needs of the elite for social control over the subject population. In societies in which those to be racially oppressed constitute a majority of the population the racial oppressor group had to rely on a purely military/police form of social control in the absence of intermediate buffer control group on which to rely.
Such systems proved to be inherently unstable and costly to sustain and led the ruling elite to seek to co-opt a stratum of the subject population thereby enlisting them in a new social control system based on national oppression. In societies where those to be racially oppressed were a minority, a system of racial privileges for the laboring class members of the oppressor group was used to ensure that these laborers would not make common cause with their counterparts among the racially oppressed and that they would, in any confrontation, take the side of the elite in keeping the racially oppressed down. Under national oppression social control rested on an intermediate strata which was differentiated by class and status and was permitted to manage their own affairs to some degree and to control aspects of the society on behalf of the elite.
In contrast to national oppression, racial oppression relied on strata from amongst the laboring class of the oppressor race. Their enlistment into the oppressor race was based on a system of privileges that did not alter their subordination to the elite. To the contrary these privileges fastened them more tightly to the ruling class by sealing off the possibility of joining with the racially oppressed in struggle against the system of racial oppression (that had been put in place by the ruling elite) and challenging the existing order. To the counterfeit of mobility in the 17th century was added the counterfeit of freedom in the 18th but that is not the subject of this review. Racial oppression took different forms in the colonial era depending on the particular conditions, need for social control and cost benefit calculation of the ruling elite.
After the plantation elite established the system of racial oppression of African-Americans, the Indians in Anglo America, were increasingly displaced from their ancestral home. The African-Americans in the continental Anglo American colonies, who were kidnapped, transported in chains and sold as chattel, became the main plantation labor force after the "white" race was invented. The Irish Catholics in Ireland were reduced to cotters and agricultural laborers in their own land under the rack-renting religio-racial oppression of the Protestant Ascendency, absentee English landlord, and Ulster Plantation. The Indian was not allowed to assimilate as illustrated in the case of the Cherokee Trail of Tears.
The African American could not pass even with only one drop of African blood in their lineage. The Irish Catholic was effectively prevented from converting. The common threads linking these examples of racial oppression were the destruction of original forms of social identity and the blockage of the oppressed group from assimilation into the social identity normal to the colonizing power. Distinctions of rank or wealth within the subject population were accorded no recognition. Civil rights were eliminated. Literacy was made illegal. Family rights were displaced and traditional authorities were denied. Below the lowest member of the oppressor race, by definition, all members of the oppressed were made subordinate.
Racial oppression as a form of social control in societies in which the majority is from the oppressor race is based on the counterfeit of social mobility accorded the laboring class members of the oppressor race in the form of racial privileges. The privileges are the basis on which the laboring class members of the oppressor race are enlisted by the elite to hold down the subject population. They perform this social control function, even though they share a class position with the large majority of the racially oppressed.
In colonial Virginia and Maryland the particular conditions of labor shortage and capitalist monoculture first led the Anglo-American planter bourgeoisie to create a peculiar form of chattel bondage for the largely European-American workforce.
Exploitation of Indian labor as a primary source of profit in Virginia was not possible due to: the initial vulnerability of the English colonialists; to the fact that the Powhatan were not highly organized (as were the Aztec and the Inca); and to the fact that the English lacked the ability to subdue the native population who had an entire continent to their backs. As the plantation system grew and pushed the Indians off the coastal tidewater plains, the planter bourgeoisie relied on the Indians as a buffer to return escaping bond-laborers and for trade with the interior even while they continued to amass great wealth through expanded land grabs that pushed the native population further inland.
The reduction of the largely English workforce from wage laborers and tenants to bond servitude was undertaken by the plantation bourgeoisie in the 1620's and is described in volume two, chapter 5 entitled "The Massacre of the Tenantry." The interest on the part of the plantation bourgeoisie to extend the length of service of bond-laborers is well documented. The status of the African American bond-laborers prior to the establishment of the "white race" was according to Allen "indeterminate" in that it was being fought out.
Extending the term of bond-servitude was an effort by the exploiters of labor power to increase their rate of profit under the particular conditions of labor shortage they faced in the pattern-setting Chesapeake Bay colonies in the 17th century. Efforts to extend the term of service to life on African American laborers and even to extend that to their offspring is consistent with such bourgeois aims. The English had imposed slavery on English vagabonds in England in 1547, Scottish coal miners and salt pan workers were enslaved from the first decade of the 17th century to the last decade of the 18th century and the English were heavily involved in the "Irish slave trade" of the 1650s. Most importantly from the perspective of the invention of the" white race," efforts to extend the term of servitude of bond laborers, European or African, only inflamed the situation and incited further resistance. High mortality rates also lessened the significance of a limited term versus a life term of bondage.
In volume two Allen relies on the primary sources to show how the "white race" was invented as a ruling-class social control formation by the planter bourgeoisie in the latter part of the 17th century. The "white race" as described by Allen was based on a series of racial privileges first put in place in the latter part of the 17th century by the planter bourgeoisie to divide and control a rebellious agrarian proletariat composed of European-American and African-American laborers in the Chesapeake Bay colonies of Virginia and Maryland. The character of these privileges laid the basis for the "white identity" that altered the class stand but not the class position of the European-American laborers (both bond and free), who were officially now defined as "white" through a series of laws passed by the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1705 and 1723.
Allen finds no mention of the term "white" used in reference to European-Americans in any Virginia statute or court papers until 1691. Hence his 1994 volume one book jacket comment-- "When the first African-American arrived in Virginia in 1619, there were no 'white' people there." The plantation was a capitalist enterprise. Although the bond labor form was a contradiction of the basic requisites of capitalist development it was sought by the plantation bourgeoisie because of the relative labor shortage that prevailed in the colonial period. There was no reserve army of labor and a thirst for profit did not incline the planter bourgeoisie to wait for one. Although bond-labor had existed in surplus producing societies prior to capitalism the bondage that prevailed in pre-capitalist societies was a two-way bondage; the workers could not leave and the master could not send them away.
Bond-labor in the capitalist monoculture plantation society in the Anglo American continental colonies created a one-way bondage in which the worker could not quit, but the capitalist could end the tie with the worker through their sale or exchange.
The profit motive and the crisis of overproduction that depressed the price of tobacco for much of the 17th century prompted the planter bourgeoisie to increase the term of servitude by recourse to a number of policies that fomented rebellions and resistance from the bond laborers themselves. The planter bourgeoisie, following the drive for capital accumulation, was in the process of digging their own graves. While there is much in the way of specific content that shows in detail how the "white race" was invented by the ruling elite that no single review can summarize, there is one crucial piece related to family life that is especially instructive. The imposition of lifetime hereditary bond-servitude on the African American was dependent on the denial of the English Common Law principle of partus sequitur patrem (the descent of the child follows that of the father).
Elizabeth Key?In 1656 Elizabeth Key a bond-laborer, daughter of an African American bond-laborer and a European-American father to whom her mother was bound, successfully sued for her freedom dues by asserting the right under English common law that "the child of a woman slave begotten by a freeman ought to be free." Both of her parents had died and her father's estate had passed through a number of overseers.
Although her father's will left specific instructions for her release from bondage, the overseers of the estate refused to grant Elizabeth Key her freedom. In the Northumberland County court the defense claimed that the status of the child (Elizabeth Key) should follow that of her mother who was alleged to be that of a lifetime bond laborer.
A jury of 12 men, however, followed English common law and supported Key's claim for freedom and arrears for the excess time she had been held. The Northumberland ruling was appealed to the Virginia General Court by the overseers of her father's estate. The exact ruling of the General Court was destroyed by fire in 1865 but a transcript made in 1860 and dated 12 March 1656 is believed by historians to refer to the General Court's' acceptance of the defense's argument and overturning of the Northumberland County Court ruling.
Only days later a special committee of the Virginia Assembly was chosen to make a determination of the matter and expressed the sense of "of the Burgesses of the present Assembly," holding that Key was entitled to freedom, freedom dues and compensation "for the time shee hath served longer than shee ought to have done." One of the estate overseers appealed to Governor Berkeley who ordered a suspension of further proceedings pending a rehearing by the General Court.
There is no record of any further rehearing but the Northumberland Court that had initially supported Key's suit, disregarded Governor William Berkeley's instructions and ordered that Key be released immediately and compensated. The attention and controversy indicated by the surviving records gives us a sense of the importance of the case to both planters and laborers at the time. Six years later, the Assembly, in 1662, reversed itself and English common law by asserting that "all children born in this country shall be held bond or free by the condition of their mother."
The reversal of this long-standing law of patrilineal descent was not done for the sake of egalitarianism. The 1662 ruling of the Assembly followed pragmatically as a matter of course from the proprietary interest of the owners of bond-labor in securing control over those laborers and extending it to their offspring. It removed a major legal obstacle to the later imposition of lifetime hereditary chattel bond-servitude. In Allen's view: "If the principles affirmed in the findings of the Northumberland County jury and the special committee of the General Assembly had prevailed, the establishment of racial slavery would have been prevented." (II, 196) The following year in 1663 the English Government re-chartered the Company of Royal Adventurers to Africa to challenge the Dutch monopoly over the trade in human chattels.
This challenge led to the Second Anglo Dutch War which was concluded with The Treaty of Breda (1667) that gave the Anglo-American colonies direct access to African labor. In 1672 the Royal Africa Company was given the monopoly by England to supply African labor to the Anglo-American colonies. The reversal of English common law and the increase in the supply of chattel labor from Africa were crucial steps towards the imposition of lifetime hereditary chattel bond-servitude, but merely increasing the numbers of lifetime bond servants did not establish racial oppression or racial slavery and in fact actually stoked the spirit of rebellion among the laboring population, European and African. In the latter part of the 17th century in Virginia that spirit reached a peak during the civil war phase of Bacon's Rebellion in 1676-1677.
Racial slavery in the Chesapeake was not according to Allen an "unthinking decision," but rather it was the solution developed by the plantation bourgeoisie in the wake of Bacon's Rebellion (1676) to the two over-riding challenges faced by them in 17th century Virginia since the establishment of the tobacco monoculture, namely labor shortage and social control.
Allen cites the numerous examples and forms of common resistance by the European- and African American proletarians as prima facie evidence that the "white" race did not exist. The most significant and widespread example of this resistance was the second phase of Bacon's Rebellion in 1676 when an army composed of European-American and African American bondservants and freemen, drove the planter bourgeoisie from the mainland to the safety of ships offshore and burnt the capital city of Jamestown to the ground.
William Berkeley, the Royal Governor of the Virginia Colony during Bacon's Rebellion, who 20 years earlier had tried and failed to block Elizabeth Key from attaining her freedom; to overrule the finding of the special committee of the Assembly; and to stop the Northumberland County court from following through on the decision of a jury, now gazed woefully on the shore from which he had been force to flee by an army of Elizabeth Keys. Berkeley wrote in despair to a friend "How miserable that man is that Governes a People where six parts of seaven are Poor, Endebted, Discontented and Armed."
May we live to hear the plaintive cries of woe from the oligarchs of our own day!
Bacon's Rebellion was the turning point that brought home the necessity of social control to the planters, without which as Allen notes, "no profit may be derived." Through the guile of the elite and their own faltering leadership the rebels were eventually subdued and subjected to vicious reprisals. Charles II is reported to have reacted to news of Berkeley's vendetta by noting "that old fool has hanged more men in that naked country than I did for the Murther of my father." (II, 370n104) Subsequent revolts only highlighted the instability of elite power in the face of labor unrest. Their answer to the problem took shape early in the acts of reprisal taken against the rebels that took the harshest form against the African-American.
Gradually a body of laws and customs were drummed up to divide the European from the African through the gradual imposition of a series of privileges for the European, including European bond-servants and through severe racial proscriptions on the African. The planter bourgeoisie response over the course of the next 30 years was to create a new status for European-American bond labor increasingly referred to as "whites," a new term that does not appear in the Virginia statutes until 1691. Nascent "white" laborers were marked as favored through the degradation of the African American. In this way, combined by the force of laws and all the powers that accrue to the wealthy, a counterfeit of mobility was cast like a veil over European-American laborers and a spike was driven through the solidarity that had joined them in arms together with the African Americans during Bacon's Rebellion.
The white race was enshrined by statute in 1705 and 1723. English lawmakers charged with reviewing the laws and rulings of the colonial courts and Assembly questioned why property- owning African Americans should be denied the right to vote and acquire property like other free persons. The Governor of Virginia at this time, William Gooch, responded and declared that the Virginia Assembly had decided "to fix a perpetual Brand upon Free Negros & Mulattos." Allen considers Gooch's response to be an important example from the historical record that has been given scant notice by historians. An analysis of Gooch's explanation, in Allen's view, "gets to the heart of the motives of the Anglo-American continental plantation bourgeoisie in imposing not just a system of lifetime bond-servitude only on persons of African descent, but a system of racial oppression, by denying recognition of, refusing to acknowledge, delegitimizing, so far as African-Americans were concerned, the normal social distinctions characteristic of capitalist society." (II, 242) This was no "Unthinking Decision."
Gooch also defended the law of 1723 on grounds that bring to mind the case of Elizabeth Key, the "mulatto" offspring of an African American mother and European American father whose suit for freedom was upheld by a jury. Gooch had prefaced his defense of the law by reference to an alleged revolt plot among African American bond laborers in 1722, "wherein the Free Negros & Mulattos were much suspected to have been concerned…" Gooch added that the law was passed to "make the free Negros sensible that a distinction ought to be made between their offspring and the descendants of an Englishman." "Those descended from a white Father or Mother," were in his estimation "the worst of our imported Servants and convicts." Gooch argued that the law served as a way of "discouraging that kind of copulation."
The Act of 1723 also specifically denied, amongst a host of other things, the right of any Negro to defend him or herself against any "white" person, or to bear witness against the attacker in a court of law. Allen points out that the denial of the right of self-defense to all African-Americans also becomes a point of convergence between white supremacy and male supremacy. It essentially legalized the rape of any African American woman by any European- American male. The American form of male supremacy develops into the peculiar form of white male supremacy from this point on.
These statutes capped over two generations of effort on the part of the planter bourgeoisie to extend chattel bond-servitude to lifetime hereditary bond servitude and now they had found the means to an end; one that divided European against African laborers and enlisted the former as captor and enforcer of the system over the latter. In churches and from the courthouses the new laws were read out loud and posted on walls to drive home the message of the new racial order. What had been the rights of Englishmen now became the privileges of "whites." A counterfeit of social mobility was the privilege created by the imposition of racial slavery on the African American. Additionally to that counterfeit of social mobility was added the very clear cut "right" of any white male to assume familiarity with any African-American woman.
Racial oppression was merged with gender oppression. For the plantation elite this right added rape as a form of exploitation that increased their wealth and they exercised this form of exploitation with abandon. We have that rapist of Monticello, author of the Declaration of Independence, still hailed today in classrooms across America as the apostle of American Democracy. For the poor white male however, this "right" further obscured the injustice and cruelty of the system that the "white identity" was established to defend.
It was a "right" that planted the seed of hatred between men and women and deepened the divide between the poor "white" and the racially oppressed Black, woman, man and child. A hatred that comes down to us through that strongest invective of American slang: Motherfucker! The plantation elite prospered off the labor of the enslaved but the majority of the "whites" who did not own enslaved laborers did not. But, as Allen describes in detail, the effect of the invention of the "white race" secured the dominance of the plantation bourgeoisie whose wealth and plantations grew in inverse proportion to the impoverishment of the "free white" laborer.
The counterfeit of mobility did not allow the poor white to rise upwards in the social order, only to flee to the mountains, the west, to drive the Indians further inland and then squat on "unclaimed" land, clear it, only to be displaced again by the land engrossing plantation bourgeoisie who had taught them to hate the enslaved rather than the system of racial slavery that was responsible for their own marginalization and impoverishment. The poor whites fled a system that had little place for them except as patrols and overseers and social control force over the enslaved who they had once fought side by side with as European-Americans, (not as "whites") for a true freedom. They fled from a system, they did not understand but they carried with them the seeds of their own misfortune, the white identity.
The transformation of the misery of the Berkeley's to the Golden Age of the Chesapeake was achieved by the invention of the "white race," which has come down to us as the "Ordeal of America." Edmund Morgan's American Freedom, American Slavery had done so much to challenge the natural racism of the psycho-cultural group, but it now dropped the ball. Morgan claimed that the enslavement of the African left "too free poor [Europeans] to matter," thereby leaving open the interpretation that enslavement of the African had benefited the "white" laborer. Conclusion
Theodore W Allen's The Invention of the White Race began as a spark of intuition that came to him "in the charged ambience of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s." The concluding paragraph from Volume Two points the reader to the author's motivating impulse:
"… the present day United States bears the indelible stamp of the African-American civil rights struggle of the 1960s and after, a seal that the "white backlash" has by no means been able to expunge from the nation's consciousness. Perhaps in the impending renewal of the struggle of the "common people" and the "Titans" the Great Safety Valve of white skin privileges may finally come to be seen and rejected by laboring-class European-Americans as the incubus that for three centuries has paralyzed their will in defense of their class interests vis-à-vis those of the ruling class."
Frankly speaking, three centuries of paralyzed will does not exactly inspire hope in the laboring class European-American's prospects for a successful defense of their class interests. Allen's reference here to labor history is sure to incite outraged responses that damn him as a reprobate and recite the list of past martyrs for labor's cause. But as Allen said at the beginning of his project in 1969, "If it was Solidarity Forever, why must it be again?" The intent of his reference to "paralyzed will" in the concluding paragraph cited above is not to disparage the revolutionary potential that inheres in the European-American sector of the proletariat, but only to free its putative leaders, the so-called conscious element, from their "white" identity.
The issue at stake is not whether or not the European-American worker can be radicalized, but whether the "white" radical can be. Allen's use of the terms "perhaps" and "may" in the concluding paragraph admits the possibility for change, but it is a far cry from any pre-determined optimism that the choice made will be the correct one from the perspective of proletarian solidarity. The correct choice is an informed, conscious one based on particular conditions, strategic and tactical considerations all viewed in the light of history. Yet regarding the impending renewal of the struggle between the "common people" and the "Titans" there is no doubt in Allen's view as expressed here that this conflict is indeed irrepressible and that where there is repression there is resistance. Nor is there any doubt expressed concerning the immediate and long-term interest of the European-American proletarian in seeing and rejecting what he terms the "Great Safety Valve of white skin privileges."
The revolutionary prospects for the European-American proletarian then hinges, in Allen's view, on the urgent necessity and willingness to see, for once "seen," the "white" identity, which seemed solid and timeless, a "natural attribute," shows itself to be the "incubus" that has "paralyzed their will." While it has not been common for privileged laborers of the oppressor race to have thrown off their privileges and their oppressor race identity and made common cause with the oppressed race, there has also not been such a well-supported case made for why it is in their interests to do so and for this we may be thankful to Theodore W. Allen for never giving up even when he knew he would not live to see the day. Theodore W. Allen's "Summary of the Argument of The Invention of the White Race" and selected other writings are available online.
[Sean Ahern. NYC parent and public school teacher/member United Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 2, AFL-CIO. 2013].
Hubert Harrison assumed the managing editor position at the "Negro World" (the paper of Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association) in early January 1920 (102 years ago). He not only transformed the paper through his editing efforts; he also did so with his own editorials and articles. Throughout the period leading up to the August 1920 UNIA Convention he sought to develop race consciousness among the African American masses and to point the way forward with a militant, "Negro"-led, direction in the struggle for liberty and equality. The themes he treated and subjects he covered -- the leadership question, international and domestic issues, education, poetry, and book and theatre reviews were wide-ranging. His voluminous writings in this short period were remarkable and offer an important look at the radical, race-conscious message that he offered. This is discussed in "Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality, 1918-1927" (Columbia University Press) by Jeffrey B. Perry.