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Jeffrey B. Perry Blog

“Solidarity Forever!” Means “Privileges Never!”More on the Work of Theodore W. Allen on “White-Skin Privilege” and "White Race" Privilege

“Solidarity Forever!” Means “Privileges Never!”
Theodore W. Allen on "White-Skin Privilege" and "'White Race' Privilege"


I would like to thank Dan La Botz for commenting on my response to his review article "Lessons of the American Revolutionary Left of the 1970s: A Review of Truth and Revolution."

In my first response I tried to do three things:

First I tried to make clear that, based on the historical record, Theodore W. Allen pioneered the “white-skin privilege” analysis in 1965 and he was the originator and principal developer of the theory.

Second, I tried to make clear that Allen did not consider “white-skin privileges” to be “benefits” for working people. Allen argues that “white-skin privileges” were created and maintained by the ruling-class to serve its interests for purposes of social control. He emphasized that “white-skin privileges,” conferred on European-American workers by the ruling class, are ruinous to the class interests of European-American workers and all workers and that “the day-to-day real interests of the white workers is not their white-skin privileges, but in the development of an ever expanding union of class conscious workers.”

Third, I tried to call attention to the importance of Allen’s writings, particularly the new Verso Books publication of his two-volume, magnum opus The Invention of the White Race, which is due out in November.

As I understand La Botz’ response to my posting, he accepts my first and second points on Allen’s pioneering role and that Allen did not consider “white-skin privileges” as a benefit.

Regarding my third point -- I do not read La Botz’ response as one that encourages the reading of Allen. I feel that is unfortunate because, as I stated, Allen was a major anti-white supremacist working-class intellectual/activist whose writings have much to offer us today.


Comments on Allen’s Work by Scholars and Labor, Left, and Anti-white Supremacist Activists


I am not alone in this sentiment. I encourage people to read the comments on Allen’s work by such scholars and labor, left, and anti-white supremacist activists as Bill Fletcher, Jr., Audrey Smedley, Tim Wise, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Gene Bruskin, Tami Gold, Muriel Tillinghast, Joe Berry, George Schmidt, Noel Inatiev, Carl Davidson, Mark Solomon, Gerald Horne, Wilson Moses, David Roediger Joe Wilson, Charles Lumpkins, Michael Zweig, Margery Freeman, Michael Goldfield, Spencer Sunshine, Ed Peeples, Russell Dale, Gwen Midlo-Hall, Sam Anderson, Gregory Meyerson, Younes Abouyoub, Peter Bohmer, Dennis O’Neill, Ted Pearson, Juliet Ucelli, Stella Winston, Sean J. Connolly, Vivien Sandlund, Dave Marsh, Russell R. Menard, Jonathan Scott, John D. Brewer, Richard Williams, William L. Vanderburg, Rodney Barker, and Matthew Frye Jacobson.


Easily Accessible Allen Articles


I also encourage people to read easily accessible Allen articles including:

Class Struggle and the Origin of Racial Slavery: The Invention of the White Race

"Summary of the Argument of The Invention of the White Race"

"In Defense of Affirmative Action in Employment Policy"

"'Race' and 'Ethnicity': History and the 2000 Census"

“On Roediger's Wages of Whiteness"

In addition, my article “The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy” offers a section (beginning on p. 99) on Allen’s last major unpublished work, “Toward a Revolution in Labor History.”


Ruling-Class "whites" Benefit from the System of "White-Skin Privileges" -- It Is In Their Class Interest


In reading La Botz’ original review and response to my posting it seems that the position he initially inaccurately attributed to Theodore W. Allen – the idea that “white skin privileges” are a “benefit” to “white” workers – was in fact La Botz’ position, not Allen’s. If I read La Botz correctly, he says “white skin privilege” was a set of “benefits” that somehow “accrued to those deemed to be white” and, to La Botz, it is “obvious” that “‘white skin privilege’ provided immediate, short term . . . benefits to whites.”

Here is where I think that Allen’s anti-white supremacist, class-conscious historical analysis is particularly instructive.

Allen is talking about European-American workers, not about the “white” ruling class and not about the multi-class formation “whites” that La Botz says accrue “benefits.” Allen historically details how ruling-class “whites” benefit from the system of “white-skin privileges” – it is in their class interests. He is emphatic, however, that for European-American workers, “white-skin privileges” are not in their interest and they should be challenged.


Origin of the System of "white race privileges"


Allen’s details the origin of the system of “white race privileges” as he argues:

1. The “white race” was invented as a ruling class social control formation and a system of “racial slavery,” a form of racial oppression, was implemented in response to labor solidarity as manifested in the latter (civil war) stages of Bacon's Rebellion (1676-77).

2. A system of racial privileges was deliberately instituted as a conscious ruling-class policy in order to define and establish the “white race” as a social control formation

3. The consequence was not only ruinous to the interests of the African-American workers, it was also disastrous for “white” workers.

He also describes how “The normal course of capitalist events brings on a deterioration of the conditions of the laboring classes” and deep crises such as those of the 1870s, 1890s, and 1930s. In each of these “three periods of national crisis [the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Populist Revolt of 1890s, and the Great Depression of the 1930s] characterized by general confrontations between capital and urban and rural laboring classes” Allen details how “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.”

“The “Developing Conjuncture . . .” (pp. 34, 87-89) article cited above describes how Allen developed the “white race” privilege concept and how he emphasized that these privileges were a “poison bait” and they “do not permit” the masses of European-American workers nor their children “to escape” from that class. He explained, “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 used statistics showing that in the South where race privilege “has always been most emphasized . . . the white workers have fared worse than the white workers in the rest of the country.”

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

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


"Race-Privilege Policy is Deliberate Bourgeois Class Policy"

It Serves the Interest of the Ruling Class, Not the Interests of the Working Class


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

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

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

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


"Can White Workers/Radicals Be Radicalized?"


From the perspective of wanting to encourage reading of the writings of Theodore W. Allen, it is unfortunate that in his review La Botz, in addition to incorrectly characterizing a main aspect of Allen’s “white skin privilege” theory, also provides a link to a version of “White Blindspot” that is not the most complete version -- it is a link to a version that doesn’t include Allen’s very important article “Can White Workers Radicals Be Radicalized?” [Note -- "Workers" was crossed-out by Allen, but kept in the title. In the future this article will be cited using Workers/Radicals to indicate that the word "Workers" is crossed out and the word "Radicals" remains.]

The most complete version of “White Blindspot” had three component parts; the one that La Botz linked to only had two. As I explain in “The Developing Conjuncture . . .” -- “the most complete version was published as Noel Ignatin (Ignatiev) and Ted (Theodore W.) Allen, White Blindspot & Can White Workers/Radicals Be Radicalized? (Detroit: The Radical Education Project and New York: NYC Revolutionary Youth Movement, 1969). That stapled, mimeo publication had three components, an article by Ignatin and Allen entitled “White Blindspot,” “A Letter of Support” that was written by Allen, and Allen’s extremely important article “Can White Workers/Radicals Be Radicalized?” (The “White Blindspot” linked to buy La Botz only had the first two pieces.)

The activist Dennis O’Neill, in “Some Thoughts on the Contributions of Ted Allen,” explains that Allen and Ignatiev wrote “'White Blindspot' (including another piece entitled ‘Can White Workers/Radicals Be Radicalized?’), which became one of dozens of pamphlets published by the SDS-affiliated Radical Education Project. Within six months of its publication, this cheaply mimeographed piece by two little-known authors set the terms for nearly all discussion of racism and what to do about it within the most influential radical group on US campuses. The concept quickly spread throughout the broader Left and there too set the terms in a discussion that had been raging since 1965.”

Thus, in terms of encouraging readers to read Allen’s important writings, it is unfortunate that when La Botz offered his link to “White Blindspot” it only included the first two pieces “White Blindspot” and “A Letter of Support” and it did not include Allen’s “Can White Workers/Radicals Be Radicalized?”

The more complete version of “White Blindspot”, with the three components and including Allen’s “Can White Workers/ Radicals Be Radicalized?” is available online and is also available as a link on my webpage in the section “Theodore W. Allen (with audio and video links)”. I very much encourage people to read it.

“Can White Workers/Radicals Be Radicalized?” takes up a number of issues that I think should be of special interest to readers today.


On the "generally low level of class consciousness of the United States working class" --
The Six-Point Rationale


It first addresses the issue of “general historians and labor and socialist specialists” who “have sought to explain the ‘traditional’ generally low level of class consciousness of the United States working class as compared with that of the workers of many other industrial countries.” Writing in the late 1960s, Allen described the prevailing consensus among left and labor historians as a consensus that attributed the low level of class consciousness among American workers to such factors as the early development of civil liberties, the heterogeneity of the work force, the safety valve of homesteading opportunities in the west, the ease of social mobility, the relative shortage of labor, and the early development of “pure and simple trade unionism.”

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

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

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

He then focused on what he described as “two basic and irrefutable themes.” First, whatever the state of class-consciousness may have been most of the time, “there have been occasional periods of widespread and violent eruption of radical thought and action on the part of the workers and poor farmers, white and black.” He cited Black labor's valiant Reconstruction struggle; the Exodus of 1879; the “year of violence” in 1877 marked by “fiery revolts at every major terminal point across the country”; the period from “bloody Haymarket” in 1886 to the Pullman strike of 1894 during which “the U.S. army was called upon no less than 328 times to suppress labor's struggles”; the Populists of the same period when Black and white poor farmers “joined hands for an instant in the South” and when Middle Western farmers decided to “raise less corn and more hell!”; and the labor struggles of the 1930's marked by sit down strikes and the establishment of industrial unionism.

Allen emphasized that in such times “any proposal to discuss the relative backwardness of the United States workers and poor farmers would have had a ring of unreality.” He reasoned, “if, in such crises, the cause of labor was consistently defeated by force and cooptation; if no permanent advance of class consciousness in the form of a third, anti-capitalist, party was achieved . . . there must have been reasons more relevant than ‘free land’ that you couldn't get; ‘free votes’ that you couldn't cast, or couldn't get counted; or ‘high wages’ for jobs you couldn't find or
. . . the rest of the standard rationale.”

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


In Three Previous Crises "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"


In another very compelling section of “Can White Workers/Radicals Be Radicalized?” (with great relevance today), Allen offered important historical analyses of three previous crises [the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Populist Revolt of 1890s, and the Great Depression of the 1930s] characterized by general confrontations between capital and urban and rural laboring classes. He explained how, in each case, the ruling class moved to maintain power by turns to white supremacy and by reinforcing “white race” privileges and, as he later summed up, “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.”


Four Arguments Against and Five "Artful Dodges"


In yet another section of “Can White Workers/Radicals Be Radicalized?” (and in another section of “A Letter of Support”) Allen offers additional insights that should be of great interest to contemporary readers. Allen was a very serious and principled proletarian scholar and he tried to honestly identify and address objections people might have to what he was saying. As he would later do in his major work, The Invention of the White Race, Allen put forth arguments that might be raised by those who challenged what he said, and then sought to address those positions in an informed and principled way.

In “A Letter of Support” he specifically countered the arguments that: (1) he “exaggerate[d] the importance of the Negro question”; (2) that “the fight against white supremacy . . . cannot be regarded as THE key; there are others, equally important, such as the struggle against the Viet Nam war and imperialist war in general, or solidarity with the nationally oppressed peoples of the world struggling against the yoke of imperialism”; (3) “that the struggle against white supremacy and the corrupting effects of the white-skin privilege cannot be the key for the simple reason that it is not possible to ‘sell’ the idea to the white workers, who have those privileges and who are saturated with the white supremacist ideology of the Bourgeoisie” (or, as some argue, “That it is not really in the white workers’ interests” to oppose white supremacy); and (4) that what he proposed amounted “merely [to] whites reacting subjectively out of feelings of guilt.”

In “Can White Workers/Radicals Be Radicalized?” Allen similarly sought to “cut the ground out from all the artful-dodging” (the artful dodge concept is derived from the Charles Dickens character Jack Dawkins, who was known as the Artful Dodger, in Oliver Twist) of “white” “radicals” on the issue of the centrality of the fight against white supremacy. (Hence, the crossing out of the word “Workers” and insertion of the word “Radicals” in the title “Can White Workers/Radicals Be Radicalized?”)

The five artful dodges that Allen addressed and countered were:

1) “‘level up; don’t level down! . . . don’t ‘take anything away from the whites’”;

2) “the new working class – the technical specialists and educators – will be able to deal with the white-skin privilege . . . because they are almost completely insulated from the effects of Negro competition, they are not affected by the white supremacy that the lower orders of whites have taken on”;

3) “the immediate interests of the white workers are in conflict with those of the Negro, . . . But their long-range interests in ‘the revolution’ are in common. Therefore, we need a strategy of ‘parallel struggles’ with each group fighting for ‘its own interest’ against the Establishment. Eventually our efforts will join when the long-range tasks are at hand. In the meantime, however, racism cannot be the main issue among the white workers; at the same time it must be the main issue among the black workers.”;

4) “Eventually, when the depression and/or austerity times roll around, the corporations will move to cut their losses by reducing the privileges that they have extended to the white workers. When that time comes, the white workers will sing ‘Solidarity, forever!’ again and join the black workers in the struggle against capital”;

5) “Don’t waste time on the United States white workers . . . The privileges of these workers are paid for by the super-profits wrung out of the super-exploited black, yellow and brown labor . . . The victorious national liberation struggles of these peoples will, sooner, or later, chop off these sources of white-skin privilege funds. Then, not before, the white workers will ‘get the message.’ Meantime, the role of white radicals is simply to ‘support’ the colonial liberation struggles.”

Allen’s responses to the four arguments against and to the five artful dodges still have great relevance today. His responses can be found online in "White Blindspot" and "Can White Workers/Radicals Be Radicalized?. In another effort to stimulate the reading of works by Allen, I encourage readers to go directly to that site to read them in their entirety.

In Sum


In sum, I would again strongly encourage people to read writings of the anti-white supremacist proletarian intellectual/activist Theodore W. Allen, to read (in particular) the newly expanded Verso Books edition of The Invention of the White Race, and to ponder Allen’s use of the word “Solidarity” taken from “Can White Workers/Radicals Be Radicalized?” --
“‘Solidarity Forever!’ means ‘Privileges Never!’”
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"In Memoriam: Theodore William Allen (1919-2005)" by Jeffrey B. Perry (re-posted after the fourth anniversary of his death)

       Theodore W. Allen, a working class intellectual and activist and author of the influential two-volume history The Invention of the White Race (Verso:1994, 1997), died on January 19, 2005, surrounded by friends in his apartment at 97 Brooklyn Avenue in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. He was 85. The cause of death was cancer, which he had battled for 15 years. Announcement of the death was made by his close friend Linda Vidinha.
       
Allen, an ardent opponent of white supremacy, spent much of his last forty years researching the role of white supremacy in United States history and examining records of colonial Virginia as he documented and analyzed the development of the "white race" in the latter part of the seventeenth century. His main thesis, that the "white race" developed as a ruling class social control formation in response to labor unrest as manifest in Bacon's Rebellion of 1676-77, was first articulated in February 1974 in a talk he delivered at a Union of Radical Political Economists meeting in New Haven. Versions of that talk were published in 1975 in Radical America       
In the 1960s "Ted" Allen significantly influenced the direction of the student movement and the new left with an article entitled "Can White Radicals Be Radicalized?" which developed the argument that white supremacy, reinforced among European Americans by the "white skin privilege," was the main retardant of working class consciousness in the United States and that efforts at radical social change should direct principal efforts at challenging the system of white supremacy and urging "repudiation of white skin privilege" by European Americans.

       
Allen was in the forefront in challenging phenotypical (physical appearance-based) definitions of race, in challenging "racism is innate" arguments, in challenging theories that the working class benefits from white supremacy, in calling attention to the crucial role of the buffer social control group in racial oppression, in documenting and analyzing the development of the "white race" in the latter part of the seventeenth century, and in clarifying how "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. These contributions differentiate his work from many writers in the rapidly growing white race as "a social and cultural construction" ranks, which his writings helped to spawn.

       
In The Invention of the White Race Allen focused on Virginia, the first and pattern-setting continental colony. He emphasized that "When the first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619, there were no white people there" and he added that he found "no instance of the official use of the word 'white' as a token of social status before its appearance in a Virginia law passed in 1691." He also found, similar to historian Lerone Bennett, Jr., that throughout most of the seventeenth century conditions for African-American and European-American laborers and bond-servants were very similar. Under such conditions solidarity among the laboring classes reached a peak during Bacon's Rebellion: the capitol (Jamestown) was burned; two thousand rebels forced the governor to flee across the Chesapeake Bay and controlled 6/7 of Virginia's land; and, in the latter stages of the struggle, "foure hundred English and Negroes in Arms" demanded their freedom from bondage.

       
To Allen, the social control problems highlighted by Bacon's Rebellion "demonstrated beyond question the lack of a sufficient intermediate stratum to stand between the ruling plantation elite and the mass of European-American and African-American laboring people, free and bond." He then detailed how, in the period after Bacon's Rebellion the white race was invented as "a bourgeois social control formation in response to [such] laboring class unrest." He described systematic ruling class policies, which extended privileges to European laborers and bond-servants and imposed and extended harsher disabilities and blocked normal class mobility for African-Americans. Thus, for example, when 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," Allen emphasized that this was not an "unthinking decision"! "Rather, it was a deliberate act by the plantation bourgeoisie; it proceeded from a conscious decision in the process of establishing a system of racial oppression, even though it meant repealing an electoral principle that had existed in Virginia for more than a century."

       
For Allen, "The hallmark, the informing principle, of racial oppression in its colonial origins and as it has persisted in subsequent historical contexts, is the reduction of all members of the oppressed group to one undifferentiated social status, beneath that of any member of the oppressor group." The key to understanding racial oppression, he wrote, is the social control buffer -- that group in society, which helps to control the poor for the rich. Under racial oppression in Virginia, any persons of discernible non-European ancestry in colonial Virginia after Bacon's Rebellion were denied a role in the social control buffer group, the bulk of which was made up of working-class "whites." In contrast, Allen explained, in the Caribbean "Mulattos" were included in the social control group and were promoted into middle-class status. For him, this was "the key to the understanding the difference between Virginia ruling-class policy of 'fixing a perpetual brand' on African-Americans" and "the policy of the West Indian planters of formally recognizing the middle-class status 'colored' descendant (and other Afro-Caribbeans who earned special merit by their service to the regime)." The difference "was rooted in the objective fact that in the West Indies there were too few 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 1676 in Virginia, for example, there were approximately 6,000 European-American bond-laborers and 2,000 African-American bond-laborers.)

       
In 1996, on radio station WBAI in New York, Allen discussed the subject of "American Exceptionalism" and the much-vaunted "immunity" of the United States to proletarian class-consciousness and its effects. His explanation for the relatively low level of class consciousness was that social control in the United States was guaranteed, not primarily by the class privileges of a petit bourgeoisie, but by the white-skin privileges of laboring class whites; that the ruling class co-opts European-American workers into the buffer social control system against the interests of the working class to which they belong; and that the "white race" by its all-class form, conceals the operation of the ruling class social control system by providing it with a majoritarian "democratic" facade.


          Theodore William Allen, the third child (after a sister Eula May and brother Tom) of Thomas E. and Almeda Earl Allen was born into a middle-class family August 23, 1919, in Indianapolis, Indiana. His father was a sales manager and his mother a housewife. In 1929 the family moved to Huntington, West Virginia, where, Ted was, in his words, "proletarianized by the Great Depression." He attended college for a couple of days after high school, but, because he didn't believe that setting encouraged independent thought, he didn't think it was for him and didn't go back.

              At age 17 he joined the American Federation of Musicians (Local 362) and served as its delegate to the Huntington Central Labor Union, AFL. He continued work in the trade union movement as a coal miner in West Virginia for three years until he was forced to leave because of a back injury. During that period he belonged to United Mine Worker locals 5426 (Prenter, West Virginia), 6206 (Gary, West Virginia) where he was an organizer and Local President, and 4346 (Barrackville, West Virginia). He also was co-organizer of a trade union organizing program for the Marion County West Virginia Industrial Union Council, CIO.

       
In 1938 Allen married Ruth Voithofer, one of eleven children in a coal-mining family, whom he first met in 1934. Ruth was active in organizing and educational work among mining families and women and, beginning in 1942, was a prominent organizer for the United Electrical Workers Union. They separated in the mid-1940s and Ruth Newell (her name after re-marrying) died in 1999.

       
In 1948 Ted moved to New York. He had joined the Communist Party in the 1930s and, after coming to New York, he taught classes in economics at the Party's Jefferson School at Union Square in Manhattan (1949-56). He was also active in community, civil rights, trade union, and student organizing work; he worked in a factory, as a retail clerk, as a mechanical design draftsman, as an elevator operator, and as a junior high school math teacher at the Grace Church School in Greenwich Village.

       
In the 1950s Ted married Marie Strong, a poet, and became stepfather to her son, Michael. In the late 1950s the Communist Party went through major repression and internal struggle and Ted left the Party in order to help establish a new organization the Provisional Organizing Committee to Reconstitute the Communist Party (POC). In this period he wrote a number of economic and political articles on the economic situation in the United States and he argued that neither United States nor Latin American workers benefited from imperialism. In 1962 Marie died tragically and Ted, suffering greatly from her loss, discontinued work with the POC and traveled to England and Ireland.

       
By the mid 1960s, back in Brooklyn, and increasingly affected by the political climate marked by the growing civil rights movement, struggles for national liberation and socialism, and the Vietnam War, Allen set about taking a fresh look at the world and at his former beliefs. Nothing would be sacred. Though his formal education had ended with high school, he was a trained economist, he read widely in history, politics, literature, and the sciences, and he had a probing and analytical mind -- all of which would serve him well in the work ahead.

       
Drawing on the insights of W. E .B. Du Bois in Black Reconstruction on the blindspot of America, which he paraphrased as "the white blindspot," Allen began work on a historical study of three crises in United States history in which there were general confrontations of the forces of capital and those from below -- the crises of The Civil War and Reconstruction, the Populist Revolt of the 1890s, and the Great Depression of the 1930s. His work focused on the role of the theory and practice of white supremacy in shaping those outcomes. He worked together with his friend, the late Esther Kusic, and his work influenced another friend, Noel Ignatin [Ignatiev]. Together, Ignatin and Allen provided the copy for an influential pamphlet containing both "White Blindspot," under Ignatin's name, and Allen's article "Can White Radicals Be Radicalized."

       
Allen argued against what he referred to as the current consensus on U.S. labor history -- one which attributed the low level of class consciousness among American workers to such factors as the early development of civil liberties, the heterogeneity of the work force, the "safety valve" of homesteading opportunities in the West, the ease of social mobility, the relative shortage of labor, and the early development of "pure and simple trade unionism." He emphasized that each of these rationales had to be reinterpreted in terms of white supremacy, that white supremacy was reinforced by the white-skin privilege of white workers, and "that the white-skin privilege does not serve the real interests of the white workers."

       
The pamphlet, which issued a call to action -- "to repudiate the white-skin privilege" -- was published by the SDS-affiliated Radical Education Project and it had immediate effect on the left. It sharply posed the issues of how to fight white supremacy and whether, or not, that fight was in the interest of "white" workers. It also set the terms of discussion and debate for many activists within SDS.

       
Allen developed the analysis in his article into a still unpublished book-length manuscript entitled "The Kernel and the Meaning" (1972). It was then, in 1972, in the course of this work, that he became convinced that the problems related to white supremacy couldn't be resolved without a history of the plantation colonies of the 17th and 18th century. His reasoning was clear -- white supremacy still ruled in the United States more than a century after the abolition of slavery and the reasons for that had to be explained. He proceeded to search for a structural principle that was essential to the social order based on slave labor in the continental plantation colonies and still was essential to late twentieth-century America's social order based on wage-labor.

       
Over the next twenty years Allen did extensive primary research in colonial Virginia records (and his unpublished transcripts of this work, with his eye for the conditions of labor, are another of his important historical contributions). In this period he generated other unpublished book-length manuscripts including "The Genesis of the Chattel-Labor System in Continental Anglo-America" and "The Peculiar Seed," both of which dealt with the early 17th-century development of chattel bond-servitude in Virginia, under which workers could be bought and sold like property. (This chattelization of labor was done primarily among European American workers at first.)

       
When the first volume of The Invention of the White Race appeared it drew on, and challenged, the work of some of America's leading colonial historians including Winthrop Jordan and Edmund S. Morgan. It offered important theoretical and historical insights in the struggle against white supremacy when it challenged the two major arguments which tend to undermine the struggle against white supremacy in the working class -- the notion that racism is innate (as suggested by Jordan's "unthinking decision" explanation) and the notion that European-American workers benefit from racism (as suggested by Morgan's "there were too few free poor on hand to matter").

       
Allen challenged these ideas with his factual presentation and analysis, by providing a comprehensive alternate explanation, and by skillfully drawing on examples from Ireland (where a religio/racial oppression existed under the Protestant Ascendancy) and the Caribbean (where a different social control formation was developed based on promotion of "Mulattos" to petit-bourgeois status). He concluded that the codifications of the Penal Laws of the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland and the slave codes of white supremacy in continental Anglo-America presented four common defining characteristics of those two regimes: 1) declassing legislation, directed at property-holding members of the oppressed group; 2) the deprivation of civil rights; 3) the illegalization of literacy; and 4) displacement of family rights and authorities. This understanding of racial oppression led him to conclude that a comparative study of "Protestant Ascendancy" in Ireland, and "white supremacy" in continental Anglo-America (in both its colonial and regenerate United States forms) demonstrates that racial oppression is not dependent upon differences of "phenotype."

       
While working on The Invention of the White Race Allen taught as an adjunct history instructor at Essex County Community College in Newark, NJ, and worked several years each on the staff of the Brooklyn Museum, as a postal mail handler in Jersey City, NJ, and as a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library. Constantly at the edge of poverty his scholarship was remarkable for its dedication and tenacity in the face of great personal difficulties. During this period his research in Virginia was facilitated by the generosity of Ed Peeples and his family in Richmond and his work in Brooklyn was encouraged by his former companion and close friend Linda Vidinha, her family and her companion Marsha Rosenthal, and a number of other close friends and neighbors who supported his efforts in numerous ways. For over thirty years his research, writings, and ideas were shared and discussed with his close friend Jeff Perry.

       
As an individual, Ted Allen attracted a wide circle of friends. He presented himself in a humble and homespun way, he was thoughtful and generous in manner, he had a wonderful sense of humor, and he took time to undertake many daily acts of caring and consideration. He was true and loyal to his friends, but always in a principled and forthright way. In many respects, he was a model of the true working-class intellectual. He lived what he preached and he was rooted deep in the working class. He challenged the division between thinkers and laborers, his work was connected to labor and anti- white-supremacist activists and actions, he was disciplined and persistent in his intellectual work, and he was principled in his politics. His life was dedicated to radical social change and he remained true to the course.

       
Allen's The Invention of the White Race, as well as his other pamphlets, articles, letters, talks, and unpublished manuscripts on the theory and practice of white supremacy in United States history have influenced several generations of anti-white supremacist and labor scholars and activists. They have also impacted a wide range of academic fields including history, sociology, politics, and legal, cultural, and literary studies. His most recent work includes an almost completed book length manuscript, "Toward a Revolution in Labor History" and an article submitted for publication only weeks before his death which focused on the individual and the collective and addressed theoretical problems in the socialist movement.

       
Theodore Allen was pre-deceased by his elder sister Eula May of Harrisonburg, Va. He is survived by his elder brother Tom, his siblings' families, his stepson Michael Strong, his companion in the 1970s and close friend Linda Vidinha, and by many friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, and people influenced by his work.

       
His literary works have been left to his literary executor, Jeffrey B. Perry, and plans are underway to publish and disseminate his writings and to place the Theodore W. Allen Papers with a repository.

       
A "Theodore W. Allen Scholar Program" has been established in honor of his "pioneering work" on race and class as a "politically engaged independent scholar and public intellectual." That program, under the auspices of the Center for Working Class Life of the Economics Department of the State University of New York, Stony Brook, 11794-4384, 631-632-7536 (Michael Zweig, Director), will support scholarship and public presentations exploring the intersections of race and class. Tax-deductible contributions to the Fund may be made out to "Stony Brook Foundation" and marked "for Theodore William Allen Scholar Program."

       
Two commemorative events are being scheduled in Ted Allen's memory. In the early spring, his ashes (as per his request) will be spread over that area "three miles up country" from West Point, Virginia where the "foure hundred English and Negroes in Arms" demanded their freedom in 1676.

             
The second activity, planned for June 18, 2005, from 1 to 4 p.m. in the community auditorium of the Brooklyn Public Library, Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, will commemorate Ted's life and work and include testimony from family and friends who desire to speak on his life, work, and influence.

             
A two-part "Summary of the Argument of The Invention of the White Race" by Theodore W. Allen can be found in Cultural Logic at "Summary of the Argument of The Invention of the White Race (Part 1) and "Summary of the Argument of The Invention of the White Race (Part 2).

             
Among Ted's many well wishers during his recent battle were:


              Sean, Donna, and Dylan Ahern

              Thomas E. Allen

              Thomas E. (Dobby) and Dorothy Allen

              Irving and Mildred Appelbaum

              Dennis and Ruth Blunt

              Peter Bohmer

              Evie, Gene, and Nadja Bruskin

              Florence, Remco, Uchenna, and Obina Van Capeleeven

              Rosemarie Cavagnaro

              Connie and Bill Coleman

              Gerry Colby

              Lynn and John Dambeck

              Durand, Priscilla, & Luke Daniel

              Carl Davidson

              Lee and May Davenport

              Barbara Denlinger

              Mary DiGregorio

              Dilmeran Dunham

              David Finkel

              Bill Fletcher

              Anamaria Flores

              Tami Gold

              Philip Harper

              Becky and Perri Hom

              Anne and Charles Johnson

             Barbara Johnson

             Stella Jones

             Bob Kirkman

              Beth Lyons

             Pamela McKenzie

              Leon Moultrie

             Gerry and Carolyn Mosseller

              Greg Myerson

              Maggie Paul

              Dennis O'Neil

             Kay Osborn

              Carol Patti

             Chad Pearson

             Eva and John Pellegrini

              Edward, Karen, and Camille Peeples

              Jeff Perry

              Greg and Linda Reight

              Cecily Rodriguez

              Gilberto Rodriguez

              Linda Roma

              Marcy Rosenthal

              Arlene and Spencer Rothenhauser

              Yvette, Christopher, and Gabriel Roussel

             Frank and Stacy Saavedra

             Andrea Schneer

              Jonathan Scott

              Vicki and Bob Shand

              Dave Siar

              David Slavin

              Christina Starobin

              Michael Strong

              Vivian Todini

              Chris Tsakos

              Linda Vidinha

              Mary Vidinha

              Stella Winston

              Joan Zimmerman

              Michael Zweig

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