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Jeffrey B. Perry Blog

Hubert Harrison on “The Touchstone” and on the Two-Fold Character of “Democracy” in America

Hubert Harrison’s class consciousness and anti-white-supremacist race consciousness led him to offer profound insights on the two-fold character of “democracy” in America – that is, when it is a “whites only” (or a white supremacist-shaped) “democracy” it is a retardant to social progress; when it is thoroughgoing and genuine, it is a catalyst for progressive social change.

In 1911 in the Socialist Party of New York’s "Call" he wrote: “Politically, the Negro is the touchstone of the modern democratic idea. The presence of the Negro puts our democracy to the proof and reveals the falsity of it.” A touchstone is a black stone used to test the purity of gold. As such it is also a metaphor that can be applied widely to test the degree of equality – socially, politically, and economically – in America. Every area where political work is undertaken – housing, employment, education, healthcare, incarceration, etc. – can be put to the test and the questions can be asked “How are Black people faring?” and “What is to be done about it?”

In that same “touchstone” passage Harrison added that true democracy and equality for “the Negro” implies “a revolution startling to even think of.” This compelling insight foreshadowed the civil rights/Black liberation struggles of the 1960s, which posed such an important challenge to the existing social order and gave impetus to the anti-war, student, women’s, Latino, Asian, labor, gay, and other movements for progressive social change.

See “The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights From Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy” by Jeffrey B. Perry at http://www.jeffreybperry.net/works.htm (top left)
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