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Jeffrey B. Perry Blog

"Deteriorating Conditions and Theodore W. Allen's Comments on the History of Class Struggle in the U.S. in Terms of a Five-Stage Cycle"


The article by Hope Yen, “80 Percent Of U.S. Adults Face Near-Poverty, Unemployment: Survey,” brought to mind Theodore W. Allen’s Discussion of the history of class struggle in the U.S. in terms of a five-stage cycle in which:

1) The normal course of capitalist events brings on a deterioration of the conditions of the laboring classes.

2) The substance of the white-skin privileges becomes somewhat drained away by increased insecurity and exploitation.

3) The laboring-class “whites” manifest, to a greater or lesser extent, a tendency to make common cause with laboring-class Blacks against capital.

4) The ruling class moves to re-substantiate the racial privileges of the white workers vis-à-vis the Blacks.

5) The white workers take the bait, repudiate solidarity with Black laboring people and submit themselves without radical protest to exploitation by the privilege-givers."

In describing these stages Allen explained that “one important aspect of white supremacist capitalist rule in this country” is that “the unemployment rate for white workers is supposed to be only half as much as that for black workers.” He wryly noted, though “they don’t exactly believe in quotas . . . they manage that one.” But, there is “a limit on how much unemployment can be put on the back of black workers.”

Thus, if you follow the proportion of white to Black unemployment “you will find that in the years when the depression reaches a crisis, that the differential is narrowed, that in times of prosperity it is the greatest.” In the first phase conditions get bad then, in the second, “some substance of white skin privilege begins to be drained away, . . . the preference is there but the differential of the substance narrows.” Regarding stage four, Allen showed that “the differential between black and white unemployment went up” between 1929 and 1941. All of this followed the “first hired, last fired” pattern of racial privileges for “whites.”

Allen emphasized the crucial importance of anti-white supremacist, working-class struggle at all stages, but particularly between phases 3 and 5. For Allen, this was an especially key period to challenge the re-substantiation of “white race” privileges and to heighten anti-white supremacist struggle. To counter the past pattern of an “upsurge of mass struggle” that gets “swept into . . . white supremacist errors,” Allen urged keeping two principles in mind. “One, anything that cuts profit is good” and two, maintain “anti-white supremacist, proletarian hegemony” in mass struggles. He warned, “any other kind than anti-white supremacist proletarian hegemony . . . is not going to avoid phase 4 of the cycle.”

For more on this subject see 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,” p. 54-55 by going to the top left of THIS PAGE or by CLICKING HERE
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