Interest In Forming An Online Study Group-US Communists

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Juan Conatz's picture
Juan Conatz
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Jan 3 2011 07:02

Heh, yeah, I just gave my copy of Strike to my dad for christmas ironically.

Oh, also, I pretty much agree with precariat.

You can't look at class in the U.S. without considering how race intersects.

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Jan 3 2011 09:54

As my wife just so, ehhem, kindly reminded me, the copy of Strike! in our flat is not actually ours. In fact, it's been through two libcom admins to end up here. So Steven, when you read this, we need to meet up for a drink so I can return your Strike! back to you. (Blame Ed.)

So with that in mind I just bought a 1972 hardcover edition from Abe Books for 13 quid including international shipping. Money well spent.

mons
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Jan 3 2011 15:29

Thanks Hieronymous.
The one I got seemed to be an early South End Press re-print, not the 1997 revised version, so if Mike Harman's right then it should be the same version as the original I hope. (I'm not actually down for this US online discussion thing, being from the UK)

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Jan 3 2011 22:08
Juan Conatz wrote:
Heh, yeah, I just gave my copy of Strike to my dad for christmas ironically.

Oh, also, I pretty much agree with precariat.

You can't look at class in the U.S. without considering how race intersects.

DITTO

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Jan 3 2011 22:10
mons wrote:
Thanks Hieronymous.
(I'm not actually down for this US online discussion thing, being from the UK)

I don't think it is for current US communists, more about discussing US communists.

Just fyi...(unless I misunderstood devoration1)

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Jan 3 2011 22:29
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You can't look at class in the U.S. without considering how race intersects.

Just to clarify, does anyone disagree with this statement?

Chilli Sauce's picture
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Jan 3 2011 22:33
sabotage wrote:
Juan Conatz wrote:
Heh, yeah, I just gave my copy of Strike to my dad for christmas ironically.

Oh, also, I pretty much agree with precariat.

You can't look at class in the U.S. without considering how race intersects.

DITTO

You both gave your dad your copy of Strike! for Xmas? That is impressive.

Also, my understanding as well was that this was open to anyone who wanted to discuss US communism. I say this as a American ex-pat living in the UK, but I think having some folks knowledgeable of workers movements in other countries would really enrich the discussion--esp if we could compare what was going in the UK, for example, at particular moments in time and how events compared and whether/how workers made those international links.

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klas batalo
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Jan 3 2011 22:34

Well actually I gave my dad Mutual Aid for Xmas last year, this year he gave me Common Sense??? O.o

syndicalist
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Jan 4 2011 19:04
Tarwater wrote:
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You can't look at class in the U.S. without considering how race intersects.

Just to clarify, does anyone disagree with this statement?

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Jan 4 2011 19:18

No disagreement from me assuming we can do that without degenerating into Third Worldism which I'm pretty sure we can. No J Sakai please.

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Jan 4 2011 19:34

Well, race doesn't determine class materially, but I agree one can't understand how class plays out, or, indeed how it exists as a cultural construct in the US without understanding race.

syndicalist
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Jan 4 2011 19:57

Sorry, I hit the send button by mistake. I wanted to write what did the original question poser mean when s/he asked the question.

Actually race crosses class issues througout US working class history: from slavery to strikebreaking to a pattern of low wage job holding. I suspect, in some ways, this is very hstorically a US problem.

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Jan 4 2011 20:12

. . . and Strike! does an excellent job of exploring race dynamics iirc. I seem to remember there being several stories about how african-american workers were denied membership in the union but granted access to the picket lines by rank-and-filers. I'd need to re-read it but it always reminded me of the Dauve line about race: divided because we're weak; not weak because we're divided (or something along those lines).

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Jan 4 2011 20:24

Briefly...

Tommy Ascaso wrote:
You don't need to consider race when looking at class, do you?

No, you do, becuase...

Tommy Ascaso wrote:
I mean race doesn't determine your class does it?

Yes, often it does.

Tommy Ascaso wrote:
Anyway I'm probably not going to have time to follow your discussion so will leave you to it.

Okay then.

Just as the logic of Capital tries to quantify and bar-codes TV's, vegetables, washing machines and other commodities, why isn't it imaginable that the logic of Capital might color-code the value of its most precious commodity - labor power?

[ Appologies smg I think I might be paraphrasing J. Sakai above... but yes I also don't want discussion of communism and class in the US to develove into "Oppression Olympics" or "National Liberation Movement TM"-fetishization ]

bastarx
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Jan 4 2011 20:25
jesuithitsquad wrote:
I'd need to re-read it but it always reminded me of the Dauve line about race: divided because we're weak; not weak because we're divided (or something along those lines).

Originally from Pannekoek IIRC.

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Jan 4 2011 21:42
Tarwater wrote:
Quote:
You can't look at class in the U.S. without considering how race intersects.

Just to clarify, does anyone disagree with this statement?

Not at all. But I'll defer to CLR James on this one:

CLR James wrote:
The race question is subsidiary to the class question in politics, and to think of imperialism in terms of race is disastrous. But to neglect the racial factor as merely incidental is an error only less grave than to make it fundamental.

As I pointed out in an earlier post on this thread, if we want to talk about the relationship between race and class in North America we need to go back to the first colonial settlements in the early 16th century. The first settlers in what is now the U.S. were probably "African slaves left in South Carolina in 1526 by Spaniards who abandoned a settlement attempt" (from Lies My Teacher Told Me, "The Truth About the First Thanksgiving," by James W. Loewen, p. 77).

At that time the racial concept of the "white" did not exist. Theodore W. Allen's crucial research uncovered this "invention," meticulously detailed in his seminal work The Invention of the White Race, citing its creation in the aftermath of Bacon's Rebellion in 1676. Jeffrey Perry inherited Allen's papers and has carried on his project. Perry wrote an excellent synopsis of the body of Allen's work in the essay "In Memoriam: Theodore W. Allen." Here's the crucial point:

Perry on Allen wrote:
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."

So Allen found the origins of American-style chattel slavery in the reaction to Bacon’s Rebellion, where he points out that the “white race” was a social control formation of the ruling class in response to the white and black unity in the latter stages of the rebellion. But The Invention of the White Race comes in 2 volumes and would be too long to read in an online group.

Someone else mentioned reading WEB Du Bois' Black Reconstruction in America: 1860-1880, which would be fantastic because it is such an inspiring work of history, but my copy is 750 pages and a thorough reading would take a long time. Yet there are these inspiring sections, like chapter IV "The General Strike." Here's what struck out to me:

Quote:
[the] Civil War meant emancipation and…the black worker won the war by a general strike which transferred his labor from the Confederate planter to the Northern invader, in whose army lines workers began to be organized as a new labor force. […] This was not merely the desire to stop work. It was a strike on a wide basis against the conditions of work. It was a general strike that involved directly in the end perhaps half a million people. They wanted to stop the economy of the plantation system, and to do that they left the plantations. p. 67

The Civil War predates the account in Brecher's Strike!, which begins with "The Great Upheaval" Railroad Strike of 1877. But if we wanted to talk about the origins of revolutionary traditions in North America, we could also start with CLR James' brilliant The Black Jacobins about the Haitian Revolution that began in 1791 and was the first successful slave revolt in the world, resulting in the Haitian Republic that took much inspiration from the French Revolution.

But all that would require a seminar-like syllabus and might take forever. Why don't we simply begin with Strike! and suggest essay-length supplemental readings to further study what Brecher is talking about. How about as a brief background everyone read Perry's essay "In Memoriam: Theodore W. Allen" linked above. Then we could begin with the Prologue in Strike! when most people have the book.

What do you all think?

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Jan 4 2011 21:35
Quote:
I mean race doesn't determine your class does it?
Quote:
Yes, often it does.

I don't think it's ever that simple under capitalism.

One could make an argument that in the American south under chattel slavery race determined class (but even then you've got the existence of black freedmen and white indentured servants, as well as white planters that didn't own slaves.). Under capitalism proper, it's never been that cut and dry. White worker may not have identified as working class or they may have been first in line for posts within the 'aristocracy of labor', but if we are to understand class as a relationship to the mean of productions, race alone has never determined class

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Jan 4 2011 21:31

Good post H. Have you read The Wages of Whiteness?

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Jan 4 2011 22:04
prec@riat wrote:
[ Appologies smg I think I might be paraphrasing J. Sakai above... but yes I also don't want discussion of communism and class in the US to develove into "Oppression Olympics" or "National Liberation Movement TM"-fetishization ]

I recently reread Fredy Perlman's excellent "The Continuing Appeal of Nationalism" and hadn't ever realized that it was written in response to J. Sakai's Settlers: The mythology of the white proletariat. But this footnote shocked the shit out of me:

Fredy Perlman wrote:
The author [J. Sakai] mobilizes all these experiences of unmitigated terror, not to look for ways to supersede the system that perpetrated them, but to urge the victims to reproduce the same system among themselves. Sprinkled with pictures and quotations of chairmen Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong and Ho-chi Minh, this work makes no attempt to hide or disguise its repressive aims; it urges Africans as well as Navahos, Apaches as well as Palestinians, to organize a party, seize state power, and liquidate parasites.
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Jan 4 2011 21:44

Great post H. I like the idea of starting with Perry's essay and than moving to Strike!, especially since I am still waiting for my copy of the book to arrive through inter-library loan.

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Jan 4 2011 21:59
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Good post H. Have you read The Wages of Whiteness?

Thanks.

I worked my way through most of it. Also met Roediger a couple years ago at a Labor & Working Class History Association Conference at Macalester College in St. Paul, hosted by Peter Rachleff. Roediger had been good friends with Stan Weir (if you talk to ol' timers, who hasn't?) and I was doing a multimedia presentation on the 1946 Oakland General Strike, that Stan participated in. Roediger is a really nice guy and had great stories about Stan.

Having said that, I found a footnote in Staughton Lynd's book, Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising, that mentions critiques of "whiteness" theory, finding them to be a misinterpretation of WEB Du Bois' use of the term "psychological wages of whiteness" in Black Reconstruction in America. The point being, we're all materialists, right? We don't base our political theories on psychological conditions. Or if we did, we'd never get anything done. Psychologizing is too vague, science still doesn't know much about how our brain -- let alone consciousness -- works, so how could we base oppositional politics on something so subjective?

Lynd's footnotes were to:

Eric Arnesen's "Whiteness and the Historians Imagination," in International Labor and Working-Class History, no. 60 (Fall 2000), pp. 3-32

Peter Kolchin's "Whiteness Studies: The New History of Race in America," in Journal of American History, v. 89, no. 1 (June 2002), pp. 154-173

You need to have access to academic databases to get these, but I have both in pdf. So if you're interested, send me a PM and I'll e-mail them to you.

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Jan 4 2011 22:15

And I made a mistake. The essay summarizing Ted Allen's research, in his own words, comes in 2 parts:

Summary of the Argument of The Invention of the White Race Part 1

Summary of the Argument of The Invention of the White Race Part 2

These aren't too long and are very readable. The Perry obituary is very short, but is good background to the significance of Allen's work.

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Jan 5 2011 13:16
Quote:
critiques of "whiteness" theory, finding them to be a misinterpretation of WEB Du Bois' use of the term "psychological wages of whiteness" in Black Reconstruction in America. The point being, we're all materialists, right? We don't base our political theories on psychological conditions. Or if we did, we'd never get anything done. Psychologizing is too vague, science still doesn't know much about how our brain -- let alone consciousness -- works, so how could we base oppositional politics on something so subjective?

I don't know though, race (or "whiteness") isn't just a psychological construct, it's a social one. So while race is socially constructed, it is a lived experience that not only has material implications but will also effect the psychology of individuals.

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Jan 5 2011 19:37
Chilli Sauce wrote:
I don't know though, race (or "whiteness") isn't just a psychological construct, it's a social one. So while race is socially constructed, it is a lived experience that not only has material implications but will also effect the psychology of individuals.

Of course, but when you move away from the material gains and try to build a case solely on the psychological gains brought about through an identification with "whiteness," you're on pretty slippery ground. "Whiteness Studies" is full of Postmodern jargon and uses many of the same essentialist categories as identity politics, but from a critical rather than affirmative perspective. And like most Pomo ideology, the category of class loses its historical specificity and becomes simply another oppression alongside all the others. Maybe my reading of the Pomos is limited, but I've never seen critiques based on exploitation and alienation. I heard a Pomo professor lecture at a local activist space and she said "work, class, and the law of value" were mere "metaphors," simply "constructs of our imaginations." She denies class and ascribes social cleavages to the many tiers of "racialization." This shit is nuts.

If you read the Arnesen and Kolchin articles you'll see that they make very lucid critiques of the "whiteness" identity and the new academic field of "Whiteness Studies."

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Jan 5 2011 18:44

Points all very well taken. Post-modernism (along with a lot of other posts like post-anarchism and post-feminism) is a load of bollocks.

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Jan 5 2011 19:28

Attempting to move forward, are folks into starting with the summary of The Invention of the White Race? I am. And how is a collective reading and discussion going to take place? Through a listserv? Through a forum on libcom? I'd like to use libcom. I don't need anymore e-mails.

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Jan 5 2011 19:40
smg wrote:
Attempting to move forward, are folks into starting with the summary of The Invention of the White Race? I am. And how is a collective reading and discussion going to take place? Through a listserv? Through a forum on libcom? I'd like to use libcom. I don't need anymore e-mails.

Yeah, let's see if the moderators can make a new forum for this.

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Jan 5 2011 20:20
Hieronymous wrote:
smg wrote:
Attempting to move forward, are folks into starting with the summary of The Invention of the White Race? I am. And how is a collective reading and discussion going to take place? Through a listserv? Through a forum on libcom? I'd like to use libcom. I don't need anymore e-mails.

Yeah, let's see if the moderators can make a new forum for this.

Seconded.

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Jan 6 2011 07:02

Earlier, Steven suggested we use the North America forum to host the discussion group for now- the best point in the 'pro' column for which is that we are all Libcom members smile

It looks pretty unanimous that Strike! should be the first topic- a reading of, and discussion of, the book. Keep in mind as of this moment this is just an idea with a lot of prospective interested parties; I think once we start actively reading and discussing the topic (the overarching theme being what was stated in the OP: a history of the American working class, militant and revolutionary political and economic theory, and the development of militant/revolutionary groups and individuals).

I don't think you have to be an American to participate; just to have an interest in 1) the history of the working class in the US 2) reading, discussing and debating history, theory, politics, etc of the American working class movement (including its place internationally) and 3) an interest in trying to find relatively unknown moments and ideas in working class history in the US that can be beneficial moving forward. Though I may have wrongly assumed that it would be mainly Americans who'd be interested.

So how does this sound to interested participants and the Libcom admins:

We start a sticky thread that will hold information on the active topic in the North America subforum; in that thread we can ask one another questions (such as about the difference in reprintings for Strike! for example, suggestions on adding or removing or extending a kind of 'time frame' for completing a reading; etc) and suggest and discuss the next project we undertake (whether it's to read another book, put forward a group effort at finding rare or lesser known material - an example being work not available in English, or long out of print - , pick a topic related to the last reading and the discussions that took place that need further attention*, etc).

* This is where I think books more geared toward race and the US working class of that period (mid-19th - early 20th centuries) would fit- if we start with Strike!, and one or several participants feel that the topic wasn't covered adequately in the book or in discussion, we can decide whether to then read a more focused account of race and class history and politics and go from there.

Seperate topics intended to be by and/or for the group and related to the reading should be given their own thread (so we don't become jumbled with several discussions/debates happening on different topics in one thread)- and distinctly noted in the title as such. Something like initials before posting the topic name- so we all know it's from/for the group and related to the project.
If this thread were to be opened, instead of just "Interest In Forming . . ." it'd be "DG - Interest In Forming . . ." DG for 'discussion group' (you get the idea).

Keep in mind, things will get much smoother once we start engaging with one another, actively reading and writing; this thread being a good example of what I mean (an idea was put forward, several people made suggestions and asked questions, more ideas were put forward, consensus starts to be reached) in practice. While we may start as a study group or discussion group on Libcom utilizing the forum, if we decide to set up an alternative medium for posting, hosting, communicating, reading & writing for this project then that's what we'll do.

How does this all sound? Reasonable as a first step to get things going?

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Jan 6 2011 11:40

Is there any study group currently studying the work of Theodore W. Allen?