a reading and discussion group convened by The Revolutions Study Group with Sean Ahern
Since its origin in the class struggles of colonial Virginia and Maryland, the “white race,” the most peculiar aspect of the “Peculiar Institution,” has remained the most contentious and misunderstood identity in American life.
The Invention of the White Race Volumes I & II, Theodore W. Allen’s historical materialist analysis of racial slavery, documents how the plantation elite put in place this system of social control following Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676. In the final stage of this uprising, an army of European and African chattel bond laborers burned Jamestown to the ground and temporarily drove Governor Berkeley into exile across the Chesapeake Bay. The terrified planter bourgeoisie, in a deliberate response to this display of labor solidarity, enacted a series of laws and practices in the late 17th and early 18th centuries which implanted a system of ‘white’ racial privileges that enabled the imposition of racial slavery and white male supremacy.
Theodore W Allen’s The Invention of the White Race, particularly Volume 2, subtitled The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America, has been widely recognized by activists and scholars alike as a seminal work and deeply radical history. Allen was drawn to study of the “white” race by his engagement in the movements of his time; in West Virginia coal mines, the Congress of Industrial Organization, the Communist Party, the Civil Rights/Black Liberation/anti-war and student led movements of the 1960’s and 70’s and his reading of W.E.B. Du Bois’ Black Reconstruction. Allen had concluded by the mid 1960’s that white supremacism was the central obstacle to progressive movements in American life, past and present, yet the “white” race itself remained the most peculiar, contentious and generally misunderstood “identity,” blocking all efforts to achieve a just society. Accordingly, Allen spent the next 40 years in writing and primary research to discern when, where, how and why the Plantation Bourgeoisie invented this “white” race in colonial Virginia and Maryland (and how and why it has been maintained since then). Through a careful reading of this text supported by discussion, a new narrative of our history emerges that offers strategic guidance to the momentous struggles now unfolding.
Allen concludes Volume II with the following message to a new generation of activists: “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-a-vis those of the ruling class.”
The Revolutions Study Group (started at the Brecht Forum) has met since 2009. The groups has recently completed a year-long study of W.E.B. Dubois’ Black Reconstruction. Participants have come and gone, however the group has held together, studying in depth a wide range of history including the French Revolution, the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917, the Mau-Mau Revolt in Kenya, the Haitian Revolution, the 1848 European Revolutions, the May 68 movement in France and the Hot Autumn of Italy and much more.
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