Invention of the White Race

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.

All fees are sliding scale. No one is turned away for inability to pay. Please write to info@marxedproject.org for more information.

Black Reconstruction

Black Reconstruction: An American Revolutionary Period
with the Revolutions Study Group

13-week session

Some have called the U.S. Civil War the “second American revolution” or the completion of the first American revolution. Others claim that the war of independence and Civil War were not revolutions, but had tremendous revolutionary potential. By whichever historical claim, the great social revolution of that momentous period following the Civil War was surely the “reconstruction” of social relations in the former slave states. In his groundbreaking study (1935), W.E.B. DuBois reveals that this social revolution was both initiated by slaves in the midst of the war and carried through by the emancipated Black population during and after the period when federal troops occupied the former Confederate states. DuBois is concerned to refute the multiple slanders imputed to “Reconstruction” during the counter-revolutionary “Jim Crow” period that followed and to record the real advancements of democracy and social reform made under Reconstruction and partly lost when it was defeated. We will read DuBois’ Black Reconstruction (Oxford University Press, 2007) in whole, and for more recent research, the middle part of Steven Hahn’s A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South (Harvard University Press, 2003). Both books are readily available new and used, as e-books, and in libraries. Email to info@marxedproject.org for a reading syllabus.

THE REVOLUTIONS STUDY GROUP (originally at the Brecht Forum) has been meeting for 10 years. Individual 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 European Revolutions of 1848, the May movement in France of 1968 and the Hot Autumn of Italy the following year, the Spanish Civil War, the Mexican Revolution, the Socialist (2nd) International, the German revolutionary period of 1918-1924, and the Chinese revolutionary process of the 20th Century.

The listed fees are sliding scale. No one is denied admission for inability to pay.

 

TONIGHT, FEBRUARY 11 ONLY: The class will meet at The Brooklyn Commons, 388 Atlantic Avenue. A or G trains to Hoyt-Schermerhorn stop is a short walk from this venue.