Posts Tagged ‘marxism’

“The powerlessness of the workers is not merely a ruse of the rulers but the logical consequence of industrial society, into which the efforts to escape it have finally transformed the ancient concept of fate.”

– Theodor Adorno & Max Horkheimer, Dialectic Of Enlightenment. 1944/1947. Translated by  Edmund Jephcott. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002.

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“Humanity had to inflict terrible injuries on itself before the self, the identical, purpose-directed, masculine character of human beings was created, and something of this process is repeated in every childhood.” 

– Theodor Adorno & Max Horkheimer, Dialectic Of Enlightenment. 1944/1947. Translated by  Edmund Jephcott. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002.

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“The Marxists emphasize the importance of primitive communism not
because they dream of a return to it. The purpose is rather to show that
private property and the state machinery are not eternal adjuncts to
human existence: They will fall as inevitably as they arose at an
earlier stage. Similarly, the primitive proto-materialism is discussed
not for the purpose of a glorification of it and surely there is not
even the remotest apology for any return to it. Yet it has its value by
way of showing that the spiritualistic outlook is not innate in man. It,
too, will be finally washed away as inevitably as it arose at an
earlier stage: if the spiritualistic outlook came into being, it will
also, along with the social separation between manual and mental labour,
pass away.”

– Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya,

Lokayata: A Study in Ancient Indian Materialism. New Delhi: People’s Publishing House, 1959.

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“The proletarian is the destitute, that is to say the propertyless, the without-reserves and not the badly paid. The sentence is formulated in a text of Marx’s in 1854 which says that the more a country has proletarians the more it is rich. Marx defines the proletarian as follows: the waged employee who produces the capital and valorises it, and that capital throws on to the pavement as soon as he becomes superfluous to the requirements of “Mr. Capital”. With his sharp wit, Marx laughs at an author who speaks of the “proletarian of the primitive forest”. In fact, the inhabitant of this place is not a landlord, nor a proletarian, “because if he was, it would mean that the forest exploits him instead of him exploiting it”.

The place of the worst barbarism is that modern forest that makes use of us, this forest of chimneys and bayonets, machines and weapons, of strange inanimate beasts that feed on human flesh.

The situation of all the without-reserves, reduced to such a state because, dialectically, they are themselves a reserve, has been aggravated terribly by the experience of the war. The hereditary character of membership of economic classes implies that to be without-reserves is even more serious than to be without life. After the passage of flames of the war, after carpet bombing, members of the working class, no less than at the time of all other disasters, lose not only, most likely, their present job, but see even that minimum reserve of mobile property that constitutes the parts of a rudimentary household destroyed. Titles of possession partly survive all material destruction, because they are the social rights sanctioned by the exploitation of other people. And to write again in letters of fire the Marxist law of antagonism, there is the other observation accessible to all, that the industry of the war and destruction is the one that brings the biggest profits and the biggest concentrations of wealth in the least numerous hands. For the others who lose nothing, there is the industry of reconstruction and the forest of business and the Marshall plan and ERP whose big Jackals are the worthy supreme Administrators.

The wars have therefore thrown, unambiguously, millions and millions of men into the ranks of those who no longer have anything to lose. They have given revisionism the knock-out blow. The word of radical marxism must resound in a terrifying manner: proletarians, in the communist revolution, have nothing to lose but their chains.”


Amadeo Bordiga, “Class Struggle and “Bosses’ Offensives.”” Battaglia Comunista, No. 39. 1949

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“To speak of literal music for a moment more, it has been a very long time since insurgents worldwide shared a moral equivalent of “The Internationale,” the anthem adopted by the (second) Socialist International in the late nineteenth century and subject to the contesting claims of socialists and communists ever since. International solidarity and the putative brotherhood of workers crashed and burned in 1914, when the German Social Democrats voted war credits to the Kaiser so that Germany could slaughter its ostensible class allies, and left-wing parties across Europe split over whether to support their respective nation-state or oppose an “imperialist war.”

In 1917, Lenin’s Bolshevik heresy was able to capitalize on antiwar sentiment in Russia to seize power. A few years later, the Soviet Union was promoting a version of “internationalism” that conveniently withered into a defense of the Kremlin’s foreign policy interests of the moment. As Vaclav Havel wrote in his great 1978 essay, “The Power of the Powerless,” universalist slogans like “Workers of the world, unite!” shriveled into loyalty cheers lacking any concrete meaning.

All these years later, the left is still tuneless. Missing from social democracy is a galvanizing cross-border spirit, a sense of historical destiny, and yes, a literal song. In the twenty-first century, attachment to the identity tribe is fiercer, more binding, than any attachment to a common purpose. Today’s most prominent left-wing chant, “The people united will never be defeated,” is a tautology. When it originated, in Allende-era Chile, it meant something topical. Today, it is strictly sentimental. Trump supporters could cheerfully sign on to their version of what it means to be “the people united”—designating immigrants and Muslims, not the bourgeoisie, as the excludables.”

– Todd Gitlin, “The Missing Music of the Left.” New York Review of Books blog, May 28, 2018.

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“It is of course true that Marx and Engels acknowledged the obvious, namely, that the overthrow of capitalism demands the overthrow of its state. For them, the political aspect of the proletarian revolution exhausts itself in overwhelming the capitalist state apparatus with all the means required to this end. The victorious working class would neither institute a new state nor seize control of the existing state, but exercise its dictatorship so as to be able to realize its real goal, the appropriation of the means of production and their irrevocable transformation into social means of production in the most literal sense, that is, as under the control of the association of free and equal producers. Although assuming functions previously associated with those of the state, this dictatorship is not to become a new state, but a means to the elimination of all suppressive measures through the ending of class relations. There is no room for a “socialist state” in socialism

though there is the need for a central direction of the socialized economy, which, however, is itself a part of the organization of
the associated producers and not an independent entity set against

Of course, for reasons not as yet discernible, this might be altogether
utopian, as thus would be a socialist society in the Marxian
sense. It has to be tried in a revolutionary situation if a serious
effort is to be made to reach the classless society. It may be forced
upon the workers by objective conditions, quite aside from whether
or not they understand all its implications. But it may also fail, if
the proletariat abdicates its own dictatorship to a separately organized
new state machine that usurps control over society. It is
also not possible to foresee under what particular concrete social
conditions the revolutionary process might unfold, and whether or
not the mere extension and intensification of dictatorial rule will
degenerate into a new state assuming independent powers. Whatever
the case may be, it is not through the state that socialism can
be realized, as this would exclude the self-determination of the
working class, which is the essence of socialism. State rule perpetuates
the divorce of the workers from the means of production, on
which their dependence and exploitation rests, and thus also perpetuates
social class relations. 

However, it was precisely the attempt to overcome the apparently
utopian elements of Marxian doctrine which induced the
theoreticians of the Second International to insist upon the state
as the instrument for the realization of socialism. Although they
were divided on the question of how to achieve control of the
state, they were united in their conviction that the organization of
the new society is the state’s responsibility. It was their sense of
reality that made them question Marx’s abstract concepts of the
revolution and the construction of socialism, bringing these ideas
down to earth and in closer relation to the concretely given possibilities. 

Indeed, the construction of a socialist system is no doubt a
most formidable undertaking. Even to think about it is already
of a bewildering complexity defying easy or convincing solutions.
It certainly seems to be out of reach for the relatively uneducated
working class. It would require the greatest expertise in the understanding
and management of social phenomena and the most careful
approach to all reorganizational problems, if it is not to end
in dismal failure. It demands an over-all view of social needs, as well as special qualifications for those attending to them, and thus
institutions designed to assure the social reproduction process.
Such institutions must have enough authority to withstand all irrational
objections and thus must have the support of government
which, by sanctioning these decisions, makes them its own. Most
of all, the even flow of production must not be interfered with
and all unnecessary experimentation must be avoided, so that it
would be best to continue with proven methods of production and
the production relations on which they were based.

– Paul Mattick, Marxism: Last Refuge of the Bourgeoisie?  Armonk, New York: M. E. SHARPE, 1983. pp. 160-162.

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“I have a small confession to make here: my loyalty is more to the working class than to Marx. I was raised in the labor movement, was taught my Marx at party school. Our Marxism was always a little vulgar. Like Alexander Bogdanov, I take the most enduring feature of Marxism to be this: the point of view of the working class. To me, Marxism has no essential method or dogma or theory other than that.

So when asked: ‘Why Marx now?’ I don’t think the answer lies in a return to a philosophy or method or dogma that was current in the small world of even the more cosmopolitan radical thinkers of the middle of the nineteenth century. “All that is solid melts into air, all that is sacred is profaned,” and surely that includes even the verities of classical Marxism itself.

The Marx of use now is no particular method or dogma or philosophy. The Marx of use now as then is the labor point of view. Or to put it in the robustly vulgar terms in which an old comrade explained it to me: the party sticks to working class like shit to a blanket.”

– McKenzie Wark, “Why Marx now?Verso blog, May 7, 2018.

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“All these deformations and a row of other less important ones were inflicted on Marxism by its epigones in the second phase of its development, and they can be summarised in one all-inclusive formulation: a unified general theory of social revolution was changed into criticisms of the bourgeois economic order, of the bourgeois State, of the bourgeois system of education, of bourgeois religion, art, science and culture. These criticisms no longer necessarily develop by their very nature into revolutionary practices they can equally well develop, into all kinds of attempts at reform, which fundamentally remain within the limits of bourgeois society and the bourgeois State, and in actual practice usually did so. This distortion of the revolutionary doctrine of Marxism itself – into a purely theoretical critique that no longer leads to practical revolutionary action, or does so only haphazardly – is very clear if one compares the Communist Manifesto or even the 1864 Statutes of the First International drawn up by Marx, to the programmes of the Socialist Parties of Central and Western Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century, and especially to that of the German Social Democratic Party.

Revisionism appears as an attempt to express in the form of a coherent theory the reformist character acquired by the economic struggles of the trade unions and the political struggles of the working class parties, under the influence of altered historical conditions. The so-called orthodox Marxism of this period (now a mere vulgar-Marxism) appears largely as an attempt by theoreticians, weighed down by tradition, to maintain the theory of social revolution which formed the first version of Marxism, in the shape of pure-theory. This theory was wholly abstract and had no practical consequences – it merely sought to reject the new reformist theories, in which the real character of the historical movement was then expressed as un-Marxist.    This is precisely why, in a new revolutionary period, it was the orthodox Marxists of the Second International who were inevitably the least able to cope with such questions as the relation between the State and proletarian revolution. The revisionists at least possessed a theory of the relationship of the ‘working people’ to the State, although this theory was in no way a Marxist one. Their theory and practice had long since substituted political, social and cultural reforms within the bourgeois State for a social revolution that would seize, smash and replace it by the dictatorship of the proletariat. The orthodox Marxists were content to reject this solution to the problems of the transitional period as a violation of the principles of Marxism. Yet with all their orthodox obsession with the abstract letter of Marxist theory they were unable to preserve its original revolutionary character. Their scientific socialism itself had inevitably ceased to be a theory of social revolution. Over a long period, when Marxism was slowly spreading throughout Europe, it had in fact no practical revolutionary task to accomplish. Therefore problems of revolution had ceased, even in theory, to exist as problems of the real world for the great majority of Marxists, orthodox as well as revisionist. As far as the reformists were concerned these problems had disappeared completely. But even for the orthodox Marxists they had wholly lost the immediacy with which the authors of the Manifesto had confronted them, and receded into a distant and eventually quite transcendental future. In this period people became used to pursuing here and now policies of which revisionism may be seen as the theoretical expression. Officially condemned by party congresses, this revisionism was in the end accepted no less officially by the trade unions. At the beginning of the century, a new period of development put the question of social revolution back on the agenda as a realistic and terrestrial question in all its vital dimensions. Therewith purely theoretical orthodox Marxism – till the outbreak of the World War the officially established version of Marxism in the Second International – collapsed completely and disintegrated. This was, of course, an inevitable result of its long internal decay. It is in this epoch that we can see in many countries the beginnings of third period of development, above all represented by Russian Marxists, and often described by its major representatives as a ‘restoration’ of Marxism.


This dialectical conception of the relationship of economics to politics became such an unalterable part of Marxist theory that even the vulgar-Marxists of the Second International were unable to deny that the problem of the revolutionary transition existed, at least in theory, although they ignored the problem in practice. No orthodox Marxist could even in principle have claimed that a theoretical and practical concern with politics was unnecessary for Marxism. This was left to the syndicalists, some of whom invoke Marx, but none of whom have ever claimed to be orthodox Marxists. However, many good Marxists did adopt a theoretical and practical position on the reality of ideology which was identical to that of the syndicalists. These materialists are with Marx in condemning the syndicalist refusal of political action and in declaring that the social movement must include the political movement. They often argue against anarchists that even after the victorious proletarian revolution, and in spite of all the changes undergone by the bourgeois State, politics will long continue to be a reality. Yet these very people fall straight into the anarcho-syndicalist ‘transcendental underestimation’ of ideology when they are told that intellectual struggle in the ideological field cannot be replaced or eliminated by the social movement of proletariat alone, or by its social and political movements combined. Even today most Marxist theoreticians conceive of the efficacy of so-called intellectual phenomena in a purely negative, abstract and undialectical sense, when they should analyse this domain of social reality with the materialist and scientific method moulded by Marx and Engels. Intellectual life should be conceived in union with social and political life, and social being and becoming (in the widest sense, as economics, politics or law) should be studied in union with social consciousness in its many different manifestations, as a real yet also ideal (or ‘ideological’) component of the historical process in general.”

– Karl Korsch, Marxism and Philosophy. 1923. English translation: Monthly Review Press, 1970, reproduced in its entirety

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“A man in high authority in governmental service who is definitely
in a position to know, recently told me that the American Communists are making
a more concerted effort than ever before to get their people into the various
churches of America. The Communist Party has been urging its followers to join
churches and to act in such a way that eventually they will become president of
the congregation, youth leader, elder, deacon, or occupy some other place of

Some of these known radicals are given these important places
by modernistic men of the cloth who know exactly what they are doing. Communism
is the great deceiver in the world today. It contains the doctrines of Satan,
and, therefore, does not have to tell the truth nor fulfil its promises. Many
clergymen are aiding the communists. If the Red Revolution ever succeeds in
America, these same red-aiding preachers will find that the communists have no
more use for them. They will be liquidated and imprisoned, and their churches
destroyed, closed, or turned into atheistic museums ; they will have a parallel
fate to what will happen to those American clergymen who are now bravely — and
often with much ridicule — battling atheistic communism.

The Rev. Claude Clausey Williams, a member in good standing
with the U. S. A. Presbyterian Church, is the spearhead of the Communistic religion
movement through religion. He is Director of the People’s Institute of Applied
Religion, Inc., which was headquartered in Suite 420 of The Transportation
Building, 131 West Lafayette, Detroit 26, Michigan, a half block from the city
hall. Recently Mr. Wiliams moved his headquarters to Birmingham, Alabama. According
to members of the church board over him, his support ran only until the end of
May, 1946. Williams said farewell to Detroit officially at the beginning of
June. It has not been ascertained at this writing whether the two facts are
related to each other.) Two national church boards pay the salary of Williams and
the Executive-Secretary, Calla E. Tenant. This group is but one of many found
in cities all over the nation. It now instructs and ordains its own radical preachers
after a few weeks of training.

Recently I paid a visit to this office and while one of the women
leaders of the Institute puffed away at her cigarette, she assured me that
everything they did and everything Mr. Williams wrote was from the Bible. She
kept repeating between puffs:

“It’s all from the Bible. It’s all from the Bible!”

A casual reading of Williams biography will show that this man
is not a true shepherd of Christ’s sheep, but is instead a genuine, modern
Judas to his Lord.

Supported From Moscow

We have in our possession photostatic copies of a number of checks paid in
one day to various communist organizations by the American dispenser of funds
from Moscow. One of the largest checks for that particular day’s financial
transaction goes to the DAILY WORKER,
the official communist organ. Others are made out to the PEOPLE’S INSTITUTE OF

William’s History
Claude Clausey Williams was born in Tennessee, the son of Jess and Minnie
Bell Williams. His parents were extremely poor, but had the greatness of the
full, fundamental salvation of Christ as is found in large parts of the
Presbyterian Church. According to Belfrage’s biography of Williams, his parents
kept the faith and frequently admonished their son to get back on the right road.
The biography gives the impression that Claude just patted them on the head
with deep understanding of their fundamentalist ignorance. It is evident that
unless Claude changes his ways, he will not meet his parents before the throne
of grace.

After much arguing with an inner voice, Claude finally consented
to becoming a preacher. He went to college; served several parishes near his
birthplace; and finally received a call to Paris, Arkansas. During this time
he came in contact with the modernistic writings of Harry Emerson Fosdick.
These writings were the beginning of his slip-over from fundamentalism into modernism
and eventually to the support of the communists.

The entire biography ridicules fundamental religion as scorning
the Negroes, being responsible for slavery, anti-semitism, fascism, etc. During
the persecution that followed, Williams was always aided by the members of
Commonwealth College of Mena, Arkansas, which was a school for training
communists, and which — after he had served as its director for a time — was
closed by the State of Arkansas. The public testimony which is on file at the
Attorney General’s office in the state capital, is so revealing of the
activities of Commonwealth College, and so disgusting to the moral senses that
it should not be read in mixed groups.

During the investigation to see whether the school should be
closed, it was amazing to find out which people all over the country, including
some from red centers in Europe, came to the rescue of this little school, way
down in Arkansas. It is amazing indeed to know that people that far away had ever
heard of a school of this size unless it had some international signification.

Before Williams was made director of the college, he had
been ousted by the Bible-lovers of his Paris Church. Those who came to his
defense were people he had lured to the church through pool hall tactics and
preached to them a heaven here on earth to help them escape the hell which they
were supposed to be enduring before Wiliams came to help them.

Much of the expensive literature put out by the Institute is loaded with
attacks on the true Bible preachers of the day. The headlines say that the
fundamentalists are the true fascists of America. In fact, the theory is urged
that the common denominator of all American fascists is their fundamentalism in

Youth for Christ
There are undoubtedly many fundamentalist preachers who may disagree with
some of the methods used by the YOUTH FOR CHRIST campaign. I do not believe,
however, that any fundamentalist can deny that YOUTH FOR CHRIST is a truly fundamentalist
undertaking. The rallies do not want modernists to preach for them. Recently
Claude Williams while teaching a red school in Wisconsin indicted YOUTH FOR
CHRIST as anti- Semitic. In an interview appearing in the CAPITAL TIMES and the WISCONSIN
, July 12, 1945, Williams is quoted as saying:

“The Youth for Christ movement is such s movement (a
movement to mobilise for undemocratic purposes). Aimed at converting children
to racial hatred and prejudice, it is anti-Semitic and anti-union. It is
another Hitler youth movement.”

The quotations found in the rest of this chapter are from
"A Faith To Free the People,” by Cedric Belfrage, published by Dryden
Press. (This book appeared in London under the title: “Let My People Go.” —
1939.) Price: $2.75 (or $1.25 if purchased from Institute headquarters).

“It was Fosdick’s book that, long before the great crisis
threw society’s structural decay into relief, had had perhaps the most profound
effect in revealing to him (Williams) THE FALLACY OF THE FUNDAMENTALISTS.”

“It’s a Wonderful Union, they sang now in a great chorus of hope and mass
strength, ‘and It’s Good Enough For Me.’ The old chant, ‘When The Saints Go
Marching In,’ to the strains of which millions of children of the South had
marched to revival altars for emotional conversations, had become: ‘When the
Unions Win Their Fight.’ ‘The change was only superificial, for the organized
people saw their Kingstom at hand on earth, and no mere symbolism of words
could have put it back in the sky, where the landlords and the rich folks
wanted it.’” (p. 182).

The author ridicules heaven; referring to southern planters
under the slave system, who treated their colored folks with sentiment and
kindness, he says:

“But soon they had passed on to their lilywhite heaven, to fan themselves and
sip juleps through eternity.” (p. 54).

“Religion was not doing for the planters of the South what the text-books said
it ought to do: it is not STUPEFYING THE PEOPLE but stirring them up.” (196.)

Remember what Lenin said:

“Religion is the OPIUM OF THE PEOPLE,”

it stupefies the masses.

Claude in visiting his home in Tennessee is asked by his brother Jack:

“Do you still believe there ain’t no hell?” “Still believe

Claude said. (p. 213).

“Chall told a good story about a preacher stranger who had come by the farm not
long before, had looked over the place and said:
‘Brother, that’s a fine farm you have.’
‘Yes, preacher,’ Chall said.
‘Well, you must thank the Almighty for that.’
And Chall had said: ‘Preacher, you just ought to have seen this piece of ground
when the Almighty had it all to himself.’” (p. 211).

Claude Williams speaking:

“Truth-nature-God: when you define them as far as the human mind can go you
have the same thing. But when I go to do God a favor WHATEVER HE IS, I’ve got
to go to man. There’s no other way. So I have no use for supernatural belief.”
(p. 218).

A fundamentalist preacher friend asks him:

“Have you lost faith in the Creator of all things as absolute spirit and

Williams answers:

“I guess I have – I’ve ceased to believe in anything absolute in life: absolute
God, absolutely morality, absolute panaceas for the world’s evils. The world
changes. God changes….Yes, God must grow as well as man. The Bible itself is a
dialectical development. If we postulated the fatherhood of God, the leadership
of Jesus and the progress of man onward and upward forever, then God must grow
or we’ll overtake him.” (p. 218)

Expressions are used such as ‘Old God,’ ‘New God,’ ‘The revolutionary God,’ ‘Pool-table
God,’ ‘Brush the cobwebs off God,’ ‘Reservation in heaven,’ ‘Cumberland
Presbyterian heaven,’ and a regular church is a ‘Worshipping plant.’

Jubilating in the fact that so many preachers were beginning
to preach modernism, Williams’ biographer notes:

“’If the study of the Bible is going to hide the real Jesus from me, there goes
my Bible. The Bible is not the word of God. It is man’s interpretation of the
word of God, and anything reduced to words is imperfect, for language itself is
imperfect.’” (p. 122-123).

Claude Williams speaking:

“But now I have to tell you that I have taken my stand with
Jesus of Nazareth. And I do not even know, nor can any of us know, whether He
ever actually existed. I do not care whether He is fact or myth. (p. 127).

[cut a long section decrying Williams for supporting scientific study of the
body, supporting evolutionary theory, supporting birth control, being okay
with drinking, marrying a couple who got pregnant out of wedlock and adjusting
their marriage certificate so it wasn’t premarital sex, subscribing to The Nation and The New Republic]

Williams and Communism
One of the best evidences of Claude’s support by communism is his directorship
of the communist Commonwealth College. A person couldn’t even be a student
there without being an ardent follower of communism (not necessarily a member
of the party) much less a director of the school. Remember this, dear Reader, there
are many, many more communists outside of the limited membership of the
communist party than there are in it. Remember also that it is nearly impossible
to trace any person’s actual membership due to the fact that the membership
lists are carefully guarded — even from different groups of communists — and due
to the fact that members change their names one or more times while working in
the party. Yet, these people may be well-known personalities if their real
names and associations were only revealed.

Bearing these known facts in mind, we must examine a person’s
activity and statements to see whether they follow the communist line. When the
communists smear good patriotic Americans they usually like to use quotations
from a book written by a brother of theirs. For example, if they wish to smear anyone
of some 452 generally good Americans, they would quote something against this
individual from a book like "Under Cover,” by John Roy Carlson, or
“Sabotage,” by Kahn, or "Time Bomb” by E. A. Piller, or they would quote
from a communist front organization like Dr. L. M. Birkhead’s Friends of Democracy,
Inc. It is significant that none of these authors can find even one tiny little
thing against one single little communist in America, and yet they are supposed
to be exposing the "enemies” of our country. Any student of communist
activities will use such books as almost infallible guides against the decent
people in America who believe in and love our country first.

I am not going to quote an enemy of Mr. Williams’ below, nor
have I done so above. I am quoting from his friend, Cedric Belfrage, who wrote
his biography, which I personally purchased from Williams’ own office. Look at
these direct quotations:

“Claude found the Marxian theory interesting.’ (p. 91 –
early in his career).

Leon Webb was a leader at Commonwealth College.

“’Preachers,’ said Webb, ‘God or no God, you are getting
Moscow gold too – only you don’t know it yet. You soon will.’ The talk ended
with Claude and the Commonwealth group agreeing on ways in which they could
work together. For there was no conflict between the objectives for which both
were striving.” (p. 93.)

“The miners were tickled by the sermon Claude preached a few Sundays later. He
quoted Paul: ‘Without the shedding of blood there is no remission.’ He said
that Jesus’ blood was red. The international workers’ (communist) flag was red.
All men, regardless of race, had red blood. It was the one common color of
mankind, symbolic of solidarity and brotherhood. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I AM RED.’”
(p. 104).

“The preacher was behind the broad New Deal program with everything he had,
needing in any case only to observe who its enemies were to know WHERE GOD

This is written by an author who knows no personal Savior! It is like a blind
man describing a sunset!

“A Communist in the twentieth century was like a Christian in the first three
centuries, before Constantine legalized Christianity and muffled it in a
jeweled rope…The popular hatred of them (the Christians) was stirred up not on
a basis of reason, but of superstition. Their revolutionary doctrine of
brotherhood and community of ownership. (Note: This was certainly NOT the
fundamental doctrine of the early Christians), like Communism many centuries
later, was too horrible for respectable people to discuss.” (p. 180)

Look at how the pro-communist Henry Wallace and federal funds
were used for the communist-controlled Southern Tenant Farmers Union which
Williams helped to organize. Belfrage writes:

“Plantation toilers saw the tide turning at last their way,
and the third winter convention of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union was held
in an atmosphere of jubilation. Secretary of Agriculture Wallace sent a
telegram of greeting to the convention, urging it to forward its
recommendations to him. Through the new Committee for Rural and Social
Planning, FEDERAL MONEY was contributed to the convention, to board and feed
GOVERNMENT, the delegates shed few years over the stubborn refusal of certain
labor czars to attend. The president of the UMWA District 21 had been announced
to address the convention, but he declared: ‘It will have nothing to do with it
until the communistic element from Commonwealth College (attending the
convention and aided by federal funds and Henry Wallace) is got rid of, and as
long as the Reverend Claude Williams is recognized. I stand a hundred per cent
behind my God and my country.’” (p. 208-209)

Williams said to a fundamentalist preacher:

“There’s a horse-sense in Marx. Lenin knew a few things too,
and so did Jeremiah and Jesus. They were all big men.” (p. 215-216).

How Claude Works
Mr. Williams and the People’s Institute of Applied Religion openly say they
are communistic in philosophy and in support. A visit to their office indicated
that the Institute advocates the same people for election in Detroit that the
Communist Party and the DAILY WORKER
advocate. A visit to their office and a casual reading of their literature,
indicate that they hate the same people the Communistic Party and the DAILY WORKER hate. Mr. Williams and his
outfit help communism by attempting to discredit all those who oppose communism
whether they range from the strictly political, like certain senators and
statesmen, to the strictly orthodox Bible preacher like some of those mentioned
earlier in this chapter. The clerics who support this kind of pro-communist
endeavor are either modernists in such organizations as the Federal Council of
Churches which is notorious for its catering to reds, or they are plain
ordinary fundamentalists who have not taken the time to see what the Williams
plan is doing.

How any decent person, especially how any preacher who loves
Christ and the Bible completely and above all else, can allow a man of such
dubious background and with such immoral anti- Christian teachings, go
unchallenged, is beyond conception. That the U. S. A. Presbyterian Mission
Board supports him and his pro-communist Institute either indicates a
willingness on the part of the Mission Board officials to aid communism
outright, or it shows they know little of the Bible or of Williams doctrines. You
see, Williams has constantly warned them that he would be called a communist.
This has unarmed those who have the authority to stop Presbyterian Church
support of his activities.

Claude Williams is an associate editor of the notorious red magazine
THE PROTESTANT. This magazine is
attempting to split the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Churches in
their combined fight against their common enemy, atheistic communism. The
words: THE PROTESTANT, were painted
on the doorway of the People’s Institute Headquarters in Detroit. The magazine
does not represent any protestant group. Many notorious communists like the red
Dean of Canterbury and Adam Clayton Powell, Harlem preacher and representative
in Congress who is divorced from his first wife and now married to boogie-woogie
pianist Hazel Scott, are also on the associate-editor list. Williams spent the
Spring and Summer of 1946 on a western tour. He left no doubt in the minds of
his hearers that heis definitely a communist using the church for his evil purposes.

At Denver he was quoted as preaching and declaring: “Denominationally
I am a Presbyterian, religiously a Unitarian and politically I’m a Communist.
I’m not preaching to make people good or anything of the sort. I’m in the
church because I can reach people easier that way and get them organized for

In California the communist newspapers announced his meetings.
He is quoted by the press there as saying: “The closest approach to true
religion in the world today is pure Communism — materialistic aspects of the
ideology notwithstanding.“

Williams works with Leon Birkhead, the ex-Unitarian preacher,
who said that youth needs the shock of the sex novel; that the Bible is unfit
for young people; and who opened his former church in Kansas City for communist
meetings. Williams secures some of the material he uses to smear decent
Americans and fundamentalist Christians from Birkhead’s notoriously red “Friends
of Democracy.”

The detailed machinery of the Institute cannot be given here
for lack of space, but it is mentioned in newspapers, etc. as either the
People’s Institute of Applied Religion, Inc., or as the People’s Congress. When
you see these names, or the names of Claude Williams and Birkhead, look out!

– Kenneth Goff, Traitors in the Pulpit and Treason towards God. Colorado, 1946. pp. 11-20

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“As early as the last period of the feudal epoch, a kind of parliament had already existed: the convocation of Estates. In the struggle with the estates – first the nobility, later especially the world of finance and trade, to whose material aid he had to turn – the prince had drawn or selected representatives of the different orders and occupations and convened them in a corporate body. But this body was only to express wishes, make suggestions, furnish opinions: this meeting of estates was not competent to enact and promulgate laws itself. Eventually a second body partly joined the assembly of estates, coming more from the people and even sometimes elected, so that a distinction was drawn between a first and second chamber (Lords and Commons). But the competences of both chambers were still very limited by the power of the princes. Real parliaments with full legislative power, proceeding from open election, everywhere formed one of the achievements of the bourgeois revolution.

As we know, the bourgeois class stood for the principle of liberalism in its state-political ideology and the principle of democracy in its state-political organisation. It was, then, for freedom and equality. But only for freedom as it saw it, namely as far as it regarded the interests of its economy of profit, and for equality only insofar as it could be expressed in paragraphs on paper, not to be confirmed and realised through equality of social conditions. Not even in dreams did it occur to them to respect and practice freedom and equality in relation to the proletariat, still less did they let the principle of brotherhood carry any weight for it.

At the same time, bourgeois society is by no means a monolithic class. Rather it contains many layers, groups and professional categories, and therefore a lot of different economic interests. The wholesaler has different interests from the retailer, the house-owner from the tenant, the tradesman from the farmer, the buyer from the seller. But all the different groups and categories want to and ought to be taken into account in the legislature. Each has more prospect of consideration the larger the total of representatives of its interests in parliament. On this account every layer or group tried to collect as many votes as possible for its candidates in parliamentary elections. To make their agitation vigorous and lasting, they combined in election associations from which the parties emerged with firmer organisations and more definite programmes. Whatever these parties called themselves, whichever programmes they put forward, whatever high and holy virtues they stood up for, whatever fine phrases and slogans they used – their struggle, to the extent that it strove for political influence, was always concerned with quite definite economic interests. Thus the conservative party, which wanted the preservation (i.e. conservation) of the old traditional state form, distribution of power, and ideology, formed the rallying point for the feudal caste of big landowners. The big industrialists with an interest in the national state, who embraced the liberalism of the capitalist era, formed the party of the national liberals. The petty bourgeois, to whom freedom of opinion and equality before the law seemed achievements worth striving and being thankful for, were found in the democratic and radical parties.

At first the workers had no party of their own, for they had not yet grasped that they were a class on their own with their own interests and political aims. So they let themselves be taken in by the democrats and liberals, or even the conservatives, and formed the faithful herd of voters for the bourgeois parties. In proportion, however, as the workers’ class consciousness was jolted awake and strengthened, they went over to forming their own parties and sending their own representatives to parliament, with the mission of securing for the working class as many and as large advantages as possible during the construction and completion of the bourgeois state. Thus, in the Erfurt Programme[11] of the Social-Democratic Party, the many practical demands of the movement are laid down alongside the great, revolutionary final goal, reflecting its parliamentary life and orientation towards the immediate present. These demands had nothing to do with socialism, but derived mainly from bourgeois programmes; only they were never carried out by bourgeois parties, in fact had never been seriously wanted. It is not to be denied that the representatives of social democracy did hard and sincere work in parliament. But their effectiveness and success remained limited. For parliament is an instrument of bourgeois politics, tied to the bourgeois method of making politics, and bourgeois too in its effect. In the last analysis, the real advantage of parliamentarism accrues to the bourgeoisie.

The bourgeois, i.e. parliamentary method of carrying on politics is closely related to the bourgeois method of carrying on economics. The method is: trade and negotiate. As the bourgeois trades and negotiates goods and values in his life and office, at market and fair, in bank and stock exchange, so in parliament too he trades and negotiates the legislative sanctions and legal means for the money and material values negotiated. In parliament the representatives of each party try to extract as much as possible from the legislature for their customers, their interest group, their ‘firm’. They are also in constant communication with their producers’ combines, employers’ associations cartels, special interest associations or trade unions, receiving from them directions, information, rules of behaviour or mandates. They are the agents, the delegates, and the business is done through speeches, bargains, haggling, dealing, deception, voting manoeuvres, compromises. The main work of parliament, then, is not even done in the large parliamentary negotiations, which are only a sort of spectacle, but in the committees which meet privately and without the mask of the conventional lie.

In the pre-revolutionary period, parliament also had its justification for the working class in that it was the means of securing for it such political and economic advantages as the power relations of any given moment allowed. But this justification was null and void the instant that the proletariat arose as a revolutionary class and advanced its claims to take over the entire state and economic power. Now there was no more negotiation, no putting up with greater or lesser advantages, no compromises – now it was all or nothing. The first revolutionary achievement of the proletariat would logically have had to be the abolition of parliament. But it could not fulfil this achievement because it was itself still organised in parties, and so bound up with organisations of a basically bourgeois character and consequently incapable of transcending bourgeois nature, i.e. bourgeois politics, economy, state order and ideology. A party needs parliamentarism, as parliament needs parties. One conditions the other, in mutual sustenance and support. The maintenance of the party means maintenance of parliament and with it the maintenance of bourgeois power.

After the model of the bourgeois state and its institutions, the party too is organised on authoritarian centralist principles. All movement in it goes in the form of commands from the top of the central committee down to the broad base of the membership. Below, the mass of the members; above, the ranks of officials at local, regional, country and national level. The party secretaries are the NCOs, the MPs, the officers. They give the orders, issue the watchwords, make policy, are the higher dignitaries. The party apparatus, in the form of offices, newspapers, funds, mandates, gives them power to prescribe for the mass of members, which none of the latter can avoid. The officials of the central committee are, so to speak, the party Ministers; they issue decrees and instructions, interpret the decisions of party congresses and conferences, determine the use of money, distribute posts and offices according to their personal policy. Certainly the party conference is supposed to be the supreme court, but its composition, sitting, decision-taking and interpretation of its decisions are thoroughly in the hands of the highest holders of power in the party, and the zombie-like obedience typical of centralism takes care of the necessary echoes of subordination.

The concept of a party with a revolutionary character in the proletarian sense is nonsense. It can only have a revolutionary character in the bourgeois sense, and then only during the transition between feudalism and capitalism. In other words, in the interest of the bourgeoisie. During the transition between capitalism and socialism, it must fail, the more so in proportion to how revolutionary had been its expression in theory and phraseology. When the world war broke out in 1914, i.e. when the bourgeoisie of the whole world declared war on the proletariat of the whole world, the Social Democratic Party should have replied with the revolution of the proletariat of the whole world against the bourgeoisie of the whole world. But it failed, threw away the mask of world revolution, and followed bourgeois policy all along the line. The USP should have issued the call to revolution when the peace treaty of Versailles was concluded. Its bourgeois nature, however, forced it to a western instead of eastern orientation; it agitated for signing and submitting. Even the KPD, hyper-radical as its pose is, on every critical question is constrained by its bourgeois-centralist authoritarian character to serve the bourgeois politicians as soon as it comes to the crunch. It sits in parliament and carried on bourgeois politics; in the Ruhr in 1920 it negotiated with the bourgeois military[12]; it fought on the side of Stinnes in the Ruhr action against France by means of passive resistance; it falls victim to the cult of bourgeois nationalism and fraternises with fascists; it pushes itself into bourgeois governments in order to help further Russia’s policy of capitalist construction from there. Everywhere – bourgeois politics carried out with typically bourgeois means. When the SPD says it does not want a revolution, there is a certain logic in this because it, as a party, can never carry out a proletarian revolution. But when the KPD says it wants the revolution, then it takes into its programme far more than it is capable of performing, whether in ignorance of its bourgeois character or out of fraudulent demagogy.

Every bourgeois organisation is basically an administrative organisation which requires a bureaucracy in order to function. So is the party, dependent on the administrative machine served by a paid professional leadership. The leaders are administrative officials and as such belong to a bourgeois category. Leaders, i.e. officials, are petty bourgeois, not proletarians.

Most party and trade union leaders were once workers, perhaps the most sound and revolutionary. But as they became officials, i.e. leaders, agents and makers of business, they learned to trade and negotiate, to handle documents and cash; they undertook mandates, began to operate within the great bourgeois organism with the aid of their organisational apparatus. To whom God gives office, he also gives understanding. Anyone who is leader in a bourgeois organisation, including parties and trade unions, does so not on the strength of his intellectual qualifications, his insight and excellence, his courage and character, but he is leader on the strength of the organisational apparatus, which is in his hands, at his disposal, endowing him with competence. He owes his leadership role to the authority arising from the position he occupies in the organisational mechanism. Thus the party secretary obtains his power from the office in which all the threads of the administration converge, from the paper work of which he alone has exact knowledge; the editor obtains his from the newspaper which he has in his intellectual power and uses as his instrument; the treasurer from the funds he manages; the MP from the mandate which gives him an inside view of the apparatus of government denied to ordinary mortals. An official of the central leadership may be much more limited and mediocre than an under-official, and yet his influence and power are greater, exactly as an NCO can be smarter than a Colonel or General without having the great authority of these officers. Ebert[13] is certainly not the ablest mind in his party, yet it has installed him in the highest office it has to give; he is certainly not the ablest mind in the government either – but why does he occupy that position? Not on the basis of his personal qualifications but as the random representative of his party, a centralist, authoritarian organisation, in which he has climbed to the highest rung of the ladder. And why does the bourgeoisie put up with this Ebert? Because the bourgeois method of his politics has brought him to this position and because he conducts himself politically throughout as the advocate and counsel of these bourgeois politics. A bourgeois leader in this position would be neither better nor worse than he.

Here a word must be said about leadership in general.

There will no doubt always be people who in their knowledge, their experiences, their ability, their character are superior to others whom they will influence, advise, stimulate in struggle, carry away with them, lead. And so there will always be leaders in this sense. A good thing too, for cleverness, integrity of character and ability should dominate, not stupidity, coarseness and weakness. Anyone who, in his rejection of the paid professional leadership that gets its authority from the organisational apparatus, goes so far as to repudiate all and every leadership without considering that superiority of mind and character is a quality of leadership not to be repudiated but worthy of welcome, oversteps the mark and becomes a demagogue. That goes too for those who inveigh and rage against the intellectuals in the movement, or – as has occurred – even against knowledge. Naturally bourgeois knowledge is always suspect and usually questionable, bourgeois intellectuals are always an abomination in the workers’ movement, which they misuse, lead astray, and often enough betray to the bourgeoisie. But the achievements of bourgeois learning can be re-cast for the working class and forged into weapons, exactly as the capitalist machines will one day perform useful services for the working class. And when intellectuals in the interest of the proletariat attend to the important process of the scientific assimilation and reworking of intellectual works, they deserve recognition and thanks for it, not abuse and inculpation. In conclusion, Marx, Bakunin, Rosa Luxemburg and others were intellectuals, whose scientific labours have rendered the most valuable services to the liberation struggle of the proletariat.

The paid professional leaders of the bourgeois organisations deserve mistrust and are to be rejected as agents of a bourgeois administrative apparatus. Their bourgeois activity generates in them bourgeois living habits and a bourgeois style of thinking and feeling. Inevitably they take on the typical petty-bourgeois leadership ideology of the party and trade union apparatchiks. The secure appointment, the heightened social position, the punctually paid salary, the well-heated office, the quickly learnt routine in the carrying out of formal administrative business, engender a mentality which makes the labour official in no way distinguishable from the petty post, tax, community or state official as much in his work as in his domestic milieu. The official is for correct management of business, painstaking orderliness, smooth discharging of obligations; he hates disturbances, friction, conflicts. Nothing is so repugnant to him as chaos, therefore he opposes any sort of disorder; he combats the initiative and independence of the masses; he fears the revolution.

But the revolution comes. Suddenly it is there, rearing up. Everything is convulsed, everything turned upside down. The workers are in the streets, pressing for action. They set themselves to casting down the bourgeoisie, destroying the state, taking possession of the economy. Then a monstrous fear seizes the officials. For God’s sake, is order to be transformed into disorder, peace into unrest, the correct management of business into chaos? Not that! Thus ‘Vorwärts’[14] on 8 November 1918 warned of “agitators with no conscience” who “had fantasies of revolution”; thus the newsletter of the trade unions combated the “irresponsible adventurers” and “putschists”; thus the parliamentary party sent Scheidemann[15] even at the last minute into the Wilhelmite Cabinet[16], so that “the greatest misfortune – the revolution – might be avoided.” And during the revolution, wherever workers wanted to go into action they were eagerly countered every time by party and trade union officials with the call: “Not too violent! No bloodshed! Be reasonable! Let us negotiate!”

As negotiations were resorted to, instead of grabbing the enemy and throwing him to the ground, the bourgeoisie was saved. Negotiation is after all their method of carrying on politics, and on their fighting terrain they are at their most secure. Wanting to carry on proletarian politics in the home of the bourgeoisie and with their methods means sitting down at the capitalists’ table, eating and drinking with them, and betraying the interests of the proletariat. Treachery to the masses – from the SPD to the most extreme of the KPD – need not arise from base intention; it is simply the consequence of the bourgeois nature of every party and trade union organisation. The leaders of these parties and trade unions are in fact spiritually part of the bourgeois class, physically part of bourgeois society.

But bourgeois society is collapsing. It is more and more falling victim to ruin and decay. Its legislature is ridiculed and despised by the bourgeoisie itself. Laws on interest rates and currency are promulgated, and no-one gives a damn. Everything that not long ago was regarded as sacred – church, morality, marriage, school, public opinion – is exposed, soiled, made mock of, distorted into caricature. In such a time the party, too, cannot go on existing any longer; as a limb of bourgeois society it will go down with it. Only a quack would try to preserve the hand from death when the body lies dying. Hence the unending chain of party splits, disturbances, dissolutions – of the collapse of the party which no executive committee, no party congress, no Second or Third International, no Kautsky and no Lenin can now stop. The hour of the parties has now come, as the hour of bourgeois society has come. They will still hold out, as guilds and companies from the middle ages have held out until today: as outlived institutions with no power to form history. A party like the SPD, which gave up all the achievements of the November uprising without a struggle, in part even wilfully played into the hands of the counter-revolution, with which it is tied up and sits in governments, has lost every justification for existence. And a party like the KPD, which is only a West European branch of Turkestan and could not maintain itself for a couple of weeks by its own strength without the rich subsidies from Moscow, has never had this justification for existence. The proletariat will transcend them both, untroubled by party discipline and the screeches of the apparatchiks, by resolutions and congress decisions. In the hour of downfall it will rescue itself from asphyxiation by strangling bourgeois power of organisation.

It will take its cause into its own hands.”

– Otto Rühle, From the Bourgeois to the Proletarian Revolution. 1924.  Translation was first published by Socialist Reproduction in co-operation with Revolutionary Perspectives in 1974. The translation was made from a German edition of the text published in 1970 by IPTR (Institut für Praxis und Theorie des Rätekommunismus, Berlin)

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I thought Henri Lefebvre’s Position: Contre Les Technocrates (1966) would be a Marxist critique of managerial politics. Instead, it was a savage, sustained attack on structuralism and its “rigidité cadavérique.” The greatest target of his fury is “l’ideologue du Systeme,” practitioner of the “supreme tautology,” the best “writer of rigidity,” fetishist of the Absolute, of the System, “qu’on ne sort jamais de”: Michel Foucault and Les Mots et Les Choses. What a surprisingly enthralling read.

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““Labor in white skin cannot emancipate itself where the black skin is branded.” That line from an 1866 letter to François Lafargue, and repeated in Capital, is perhaps the most quoted of Karl Marx’s observations about the United States. But the work of our labor historians, past or present, has done little to illuminate why Marx’s aphorism not only has the ring of truth but that of a ringing truth, though one Marx did not pursue much in later years.

The scholarship which most ambitiously attempts to conceptualize the history of workers in the United States continues to ignore Black workers and, as critically, to ignore the effect of attitudes toward Blacks (and toward Indians, Chinese, and Latinos) on the consciousness of white workers. George Rawick’s call for a history which recognizes slavery as “a fundamental part of the history of the whole American people,” was pioneered by W.E.B. DuBois and is continued today by Alexander Saxton, Herbert Hill, Richard Slotkin, Gwen Mink, Manning Marable, Peter Rachleff, Mike Davis, and a few others. But in the structuring of the debates which most preoccupy labor historians, race moves quickly and decidedly to the wings.

Criticisms abound of lack of attention to race and slavery in US labor history in particular, and in Western scholarship generally, with such leading scholars as Eugene Genovese, Immanuel Wallerstein, and David Montgomery all sounding warnings in recent review essays. And the many recent studies by sociologists, political scientists, and even occupational folklorists showing the staying power of racism as a pole around which white workers’ consciousness takes shape give added urgency to the comprehension of these themes in history as, of course, do the starkly contrasting patterns of white and Black working-class voting in the 1980 and 1984 elections.

Nonetheless, the new labor history has yet to find an approach worthy of the problems being examined or even to acknowledge that such problems must be consistently examined. The recent comments on Sean Wilentz’s Chants Democratic by the historian Christopher Clark are instructive on this score:

While Wilentz does not ignore women or Black workers, they are not central to his notion of a New York working-class movement, which at times … achieved heights of class consciousness and even insurrectionary potential … he has not written a thorough history of New York workers, but only of the most prominent and perhaps the most class conscious. Future studies will have to assess how far this slants his conclusions.

This assessment comes in a review of a book which, while it ignores Black workers and the national context of slavery even more than Clark allows, is still of great value. But the assumption remains, even as the issue of race is raised, that the Black worker enters the story of American labor as an actor in a subplot which can be left on the cutting-room floor, probably without vitiating the main story. What if race is instead part of the very lens through which labor’s story must be filmed?

The Old Labor History: Problems Right and Left

The original seminal works of labor history shared the racism of most scholarship on America written in the early twentieth century. The approach of the Wisconsin School of John R. Commons and his pioneering associates betrayed what Melvyn Dubofsky recently termed “evident” measures of “chauvinism and racism.” Alongside the more active racism of Commons and his associates was the benign neglect typified by Werner Sombart’s influential 1906 essays collected as Why is There No Socialism in the United States?

Sombart does not discuss racism and Black labor at all in a chapter on “Politics and Race,” where race is used to refer to ethnicity. The same silence characterizes the entire study despite at one point, the rather extreme and flat assertion, never pursued, that the “Negro question has directly removed any class character from each of the two parties… .” But the most durable heritage of the original masterworks, especially from the Wisconsin School, has been the idea that in the normal course of things class alone, rather than race and class together, ought to be at the center of labor history. In an extravagant passage on Chinese exclusion, for example, the Wisconsin School’s History of Labor in the United States holds:

The anti-Chinese agitation in California, culminating as it did in the Exclusion Law of 1882, doubtless was the most important single factor in the history of American labor, for without it the entire country might have been overrun by Mongolian labor, and the labor movement might have become a conflict of races instead of one of classes.

Rare is the modern labor historian who does not recoil from regarding Chinese exclusion as the historic victory of the American working class or from the image of the “overrunning” Chinese. But almost as rare are historians who would focus their objections on the final words in the quoted passage and emphasize how often the struggles of labor were about both race and class and how thoroughly racism shaped and narrowed the conceptions of class of some unionists recently celebrated for their “Americanism.”

In practice, neither the Marxism of the Old Left nor the populism and neo-Marxism of the new labor historians has managed to sustain a sharp break from the Commons tradition where race and class are concerned. Indeed in many ways the traditions of labor history in the last twenty-five years have reinforced the Commons approach.

By a long distance, the Old Left scholarship of Philip S. Foner comes nearer to an effective treatment of race and labor than any other of today’s labor historians. Even Melvyn Dubofsky, whose “Give Me That Old Time Labor History” is an almost relentlessly hostile review of Foner’s work, allows that in his writings, “one can … find … as nowhere else, the full story of the nation’s minority and oppressed peoples.” Foner, whether in books specifically on race, labor and radicalism or in his general history of US labor, never misses a chance to narrate fully the story of Black workers or to detail instances in which racism undermined strikes and, more rarely, labor political action. Nor, as is so often charged, is his work “mere narration.” As Harold Cruse, certainly no ideological friend to Foner, has observed, American Socialism and Black Americans breaks exciting new ground not just in its narration but in terms of Foner’s method and the framing of questions.  Much the same could be said about Organized Labor and the Black Worker, especially in its insistence that Black self-organization, far from balkanizing the labor movement, was often the precondition for united struggle.

If, in the aphorism which begins this article, Marx had meant just that white labor would be oppressed by virtue of Black labor’s remaining branded because labor unity would therefore be breached and strikes undermined, Foner’s work could be considered a full history drawing on the analytic and predictive powers of Marx’s brief words. Foner’s stance is spelled out in his approving quotation of an 1865 editorial in the Boston Daily Evening Voice in the preface to Organized Labor and the Black Worker, as an illustration of the “crippling effects of racism on organized labor.” The editorial compares cooperation of Black and white workers with that between “the clerk [and] the coal heaver.” It adds that if any element in the labor force stands aloof “there is the end of hope for the labor movement.” Commenting specifically on the recent emancipation of four million slaves, the editorial warns it would be “blind and suicidal” to fail to make common cause with the freedman because lack of unity would make “the Black man …  our competitor. He will underwork us to get employment and we have no choice but to underwork him in return.” Foner traces the bleak scenario of Black-white disunity and recounts the rarer and inspiring instances when the slogan which graces a placard on the book’s cover became real: BLACK AND WHITE/ UNITE AND FIGHT! He has found a large and important theme, I would argue, but one less grand than that suggested by Marx’s aphorism or by the words of DuBois and Baldwin which begin this article.

In that passage on the deleterious effects on white workers of the “branding” of Blacks, Marx might have had in mind cracks in the front of labor unity, but that could hardly have been his foremost consideration. At about the same time Marx wrote to Lafargue, he and Engels apparently still thought that ex-slaves “will probably become small squatters, as in Jamaica,” and thus would not be a great force in the industrial labor market. Moreover, Marx’s famous comment came in the context not of an assessment of trade-union possibilities but of praise for Northern white workers who had helped to defeat politically President Andrew Johnson’s forces in Congressional elections.

Most importantly, the passage links the overcoming of the branding of Black workers with no mere piecemeal gains in either the trade-union or political realm, but with the possibility that labor might “emancipate itself,” that most broadly visionary of Marx’s prophecies. This and other evidence, including Marx’s 1869 comment that the Civil War and emancipation “gave to [the working] class [a] moral impetus,” suggests that Marx, at least for a time, saw the stakes in the battle over racial oppression as involving matters quite beyond trade-union unity. Only DuBois, with his brilliant framing of Black-white unity within the broader issue of white labor’s willingness to sacrifice its possibilities for the spurious public and psychological wage of petty and not-so-petty racial privileges, begins to develop fully an approach which transcends the narrow parameters of “Black and white/unite and fight.”

The point is obviously not that Marx knew best about America or that Foner has led us away from the truths laid down by the great teacher. Marx’s own follow-up of the insights in his aphorism proved quite uncertain in the years after 1866. And in any case, Foner’s approach, essentially that of Popular Front communism with some sympathy for Black nationalism, has few followers among the new labor historians. But few manage to improve on this approach.

Class and Race: Base and Superstructure Revisited

Curiously, another aspect of Old Left Marxism — overemphasis on the point that class and not race is the central consideration in the history of white and Black workers — has found a place in the new labor history, with not entirely happy results. The privileging of class over race, which Foner largely abandons, was a consistent theme in early Socialist Party thought and is given more sophisticated expression in Barbara J. Fields’s recent and sometimes scintillating essay, “Ideology and Race in American History.” Fields reminds readers that race is no biological fact but a social construct and argues that it is therefore an “ideological” category in a way that class is not. Though she makes the invaluable points that racism is not “transhistorical” and not, at a given time, understood in the same way by different classes, her essay is open to caveats and serious criticisms.

While it is true that racism evolves in a context of class relations, class is also defined by workers in partly racial terms. Thus David Halle’s recent work on white New Jersey chemical workers describes men who, as David Montgomery has observed, cherish the notion that “whites are ‘working men’,” while Blacks who live “in nearby Elizabeth [and] are far more likely to be members of the AFL-CIO than the neighbors of the white chemical workers’ are counted as ‘intruders’.” In addition, Fields treats the formation of a “Black” racial category almost exclusively as a process occurring among whites and underplays the extent to which it reflected a process of nation-building by the various African ethnic groups undergoing forced emigration. A full discussion would have to organize itself around the categories of nation, race and class rather than only the latter two.

But even if we grant in good orthodox Marxist fashion that class is a theoretical category more basic than race “in the last instance,” Fields’s approach generates problems. The overall burden of the essay is to distance class from race by putting the former above (or in the older Marxist schema of base and superstructure, below) the latter in a design of historical causation. Thus, we are treated to flights of fancy like “the reality of class can assert itself independently of people’s consciousness.” (Race, in Fields’s essay, cannot; in the real world, neither can.)

Ironically, this emphasis on class comes very close to reproducing a version of Foner’s “Black and white/unite and fight” view of history. Fields finds those “moments” of Black-white unity in the South, which she acknowledges to be “rare,” to be of signal importance in that they show class relations could be the “solvent of some of the grosser illusions of racialism.” She then cites New Orleans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, with its alternation of impressive integrated strikes and racist violence, as proof that racial prejudice is sufficiently fluid and at home with contrariety to be able to precede and survive dramatic instances of interracial unity in action.  Quite so, but whether outcroppings of strike unity could survive in an atmosphere of terror against Black workers is only one issue and one not more important than whether an impetus toward self-emancipation of the working class could so survive.

If we look at the words of a leader of the interracial New Orleans strikes, we find indications that race can perhaps not be distanced very far from class and that, although the city’s waterfront labor movement displayed laudable unity on the picket line, it was perhaps far from challenging politically the racist order of the city. As Oscar Ameringer recounts the words of Dan Scully, the Irish-American head of the longshoremen’s union, testifying before a committee of the Louisiana legislature during a 1907 strike:

I guess before long you’ll call us nigger-lovers too. Maybe you want to know next how I would like it if my sister married a nigger?… I wasn’t always a nigger-lover. I fought in every strike to keep Black labor off the dock. I fought until in the white-supremacy strike your white-supremacy governor sent his white-supremacy militia and shot us white-supremacy strikers full of holes. You talk about us conspiring with niggers … But let me tell you and your gang, there was a time when I wouldn’t even work beside a nigger … You made me work with niggers, eat with niggers, sleep with niggers, drink out of the same water bucket with niggers, and finally got me to the point where if one of them … blubbers something about more pay, I say, “Come on, nigger, let’s go after the white bastards.”[24]

Here both racism and class feeling are utterly “at home with contrariety,” and as utterly bound up one with the other. Moreover, the white-supremacy strikes, strikebreaking by white supremacists and white attacks on Black communities in Louisiana during this period illustrate that what Fields acknowledges could happen did regularly happen: “an ideological delusion [race] … once acted upon …  may become as murderous as a fact.” Racism, in its many varieties, often gave rise to actions murderous not only of Black workers but of the highest aspirations of labor. Its status as an ideological construct (though one reinforced by material facts like violence, job competition and segregation) therefore in no way disqualifies it, as Fields supposes it does, from being a “tragic flaw” in the history of the South and the nation.

Whatever the weaknesses of Fields’s stance, her essay captures the logic which undergirds some of the best of the new labor history. In Wilentz’s Chants Democratic, the murderous anti-Black, anti-draft New York City riots of 1863, which weave together so many strands in the book that they might have been a fit subject for its final chapter, receive five lines of attention in which we learn that the disturbance “still manifested (with all its racism) the hatreds and collisions of class” before the paragraph turns to “more disciplined” wartime trade-union actions. Admittedly we are here dealing with a short summary of events beyond the scope of the book, but DuBois’s summary of the same event, which emphasizes that “it was easy to transfer class hatred so that it fell on the Black worker,” is significantly more exact and suggestive.

Similarly, failure to treat the Black working class and its culture impoverishes the sections on working-class culture generally in Chants Democratic. Wilentz’s discussions of vital cultural forms sometimes tell us little more than that class was more important, and race less so, than we had ever thought. For example, the short section on minstrel shows begins from the premise that these mass entertainments “took racism for granted.” Wilentz finds that “the real object of scorn in these shows was less Jim Crow than the arriviste, would-be-aristo” and that the minstrels “turned from racist humor to mocking the arrogance, imitativeness and dimwittedness of the upper classes.” But it is precisely the coexistence of racism and a partial class criticism which makes the minstrel shows, especially in the work of Alexander Saxton, such fascinating sources regarding white working-class consciousness, its assertiveness and its debasement. Although Wilentz cites Saxton in support of his position, the emphasis in the latter’s “Blackface Minstrelsy and Jacksonian Ideology” is rather different:

The ideological impact of minstrelsy was programmed by its conventional blackface form. There is no possibility of escaping this relationship because the greater the interest, talent, complexity and humanity embodied in its content, the more irresistible was the racist message of the form …  Blackface minstrelsy’s dominance of popular entertainment amounted to half a century of inurement to the uses of white supremacy.

Nor, in the absence of a full discussion of racism directed against Indians and Blacks, can Wilentz explore the rise of the penny press and its impact on New York City working-class culture with the subtlety and brilliance characteristic of Saxton’s and Slotkin’s recent work.”


David Roediger, “Labor in White Skin: Race and Working-class History,” Verso blog. July 13, 2017.

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Among the various currents that influenced
the development of Marxist doctrine after the
death of Marx, none was more intense than
the momentum unleashed by the remarkable
advances in natural science in the nineteenth
century, in particular that of the Darwinian
revolution. Marx himself had been powerfully
impressed with Darwin’s work, the appearance
of which in 1859 coincided with the publication
of his own Critique of Political Economy.
To Engels he wrote in December of 1860
that The Origin of Species, “although developed
in a crude English manner,” nevertheless
“lays bare the natural-historical foundation
(Grundlage) for our view” and, in the following
month, remarked to Ferdinand Lasalle that
it seemed to him to represent “the natural scientific
substantiation (Unterlage) for class
struggle in history”. In
his own and Darwin’s hypotheses, Marx saw
two parallel and mutually reinforcing but
nonetheless discrete perspectives, and he
gave no indication that he believed his own
analysis of social development could literally
be merged with theories of natural organic
evolution into a single doctrine. Yet by the end
of the century, the authority of natural science
in general and Darwin’s theories in particular
had grown to the point that many of Marx’s
disciples set about to do precisely that and
busied themselves accordingly with the problem
of how their mentor’s teachings and
insights might best be assimilated with Darwinian
evolutionary theory so as to make
Marxism more rigorous and “scientific” in the
then-popular positivist sense.

This marriage, as it were, of Marx and Darwin
had the general effect of encouraging
among Marxists a greater emphasis upon the
significance of human individuals and societies
as biological entities. The specific implications,
however, were developed in very different
ways. For many it suggested the
importance of genetic factors in the constitution
and evolution of human society,
a perspective which-consciously or unconsciously-took
a great deal from the popular
Rassenkunde or racial science of the time and would lead ultimately to the
Marxist eugenics of J. B. S. Haldane, H. J.
Muller, and a variety of others. There were others who used
humankind’s newly-emphasized biological
identity very differently, in order to introduce
into Marxist analysis an ecological emphasis
which stressed the existential implications of
society’s relationship as an organic entity to
the external natural milieu within which and
as part of which it developed. This perspective
was rather strongly foreshadowed already in
the scientific writings of Engels himself and it
was subsequently developed to various
degrees by Marxist intellectuals such as Karl
Kautsky (1929), Heinrich Cunow (1920-21),
Gregor Graf (1924), the young Karl Wittfogel
(1929), and Georgii Plekhanov (Ivanov Omskii
1950). Some of these theoreticians
felt that the rudiments of an ecological
dimension were fully present already in Marx’s
writings and needed only to be emphasized
and interpreted, while others complained that
such a dimension had up to then been

Unquestionably the most impressive and
enduring thinker of this group was the Russian
Plekhanov. The son of a provincial nobleman,
Plekhanov received his early education in a
military academy; his first ambition was for a
career in the army. The cosmopolitan milieu
of St. Petersburg, where he went to pursue
his education, radicalized him, and he was
expelled from an engineering institute in 1874
for political activities. Plekhanov began his
revolutionary career as a member of the
narodnichestvo or populist movement, and he
worked as a factory organizer until 1880, when
he left Russia for Western Europe. It was only
after several years as a political emigre in
France and Switzerland that he renounced his

populism to become one of Marx’s first Russian
disciples. In this capacity, he more than
anyone was responsible for the creation and
early development of a Marxist movement in
his homeland. An assiduous and
indefatigable worker, he gained international
recognition in the course of the following
decades as a brilliant polemicist and intellectual
of truly encyclopaedic breadth, writing
copiously not only on political issues but on
problems of history, philosophy, science, literary
criticism, and aesthetics as well. Plekhanov
was a well-known activist in the international
Marxist movement, a prominent
member of the Second International and a
close colleague of Friedrich Engels. He
returned to Russia after the overthrow of the
monarchy in February 1917 and died on his
estate the following year.

Plekhanov met Vladimir Lenin in 1895 and
although the two parted ways eight years later
with the split of the Russian Social-Democratic
Party into Bolshevik and Menshevik factions,
Lenin to his death never ceased to regard him
faithfully as a teacher and mentor. Plekhanov’s
central place in the intellectual history
of late nineteenth-century Europe is undisputed,
not only in regard to Marxist thought, but more generally for the development
of philosophy as well. His
preeminence as the single greatest theoretician
of Marxism in Russia was generally
acknowledged until the rise of Stalin in the
late 1920s, despite his open opposition to the
Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917.
For Leon Trotsky, Plekhanov remained a “profound
and brilliant commentator of Marx”. Lenin himself asserted in
1921 that Plekhanov’s theoretical writings were
“the very best of the international Marxist literature,”
and he exhorted Soviet youth to
study them thoroughly, insisting that they
could not become “true communists” otherwise.

Plekhanov was ebullient in his enthusiasm
for Darwin’s theories and gave them practically
unconditional support. He argued that
Darwin’s and Marx’s teachings belonged
together, not merely as mutually complementary
and suggestive parallels, but rather as two
symmetrical and symbiotic parts of a larger
whole. In 1895 he wrote: 

Darwin succeeded in solving the problem of how
plant and animal species [vidy] originate in the
struggle for existence. Marx succeeded in solving
the problem of how various forms [vidy] of social
organization arise in the struggle of people for
their existence. Marx’s examination begins logically
at the very point where Darwin’s ends….
The spirit of investigation is entirely identical for
both thinkers. For this reason it is possible to say
that Marxism is Darwinism in application to the
study of society. 

With this, Plekhanov effectively opened up the
possibility for the Marxist study of human society
to draw on Darwinian insights into the
operation of the natural world, or vice versa,
for the laws and principles controlling one
were operative in determining the course of
the other. In this spirit, Plekhanov
followed Engels’s lead and
attempted to read the dialectical progression
of thesis-antithesis-synthesis into the functioning
of the natural world: “Nature is a great
revolutionary,” he noted approvingly, “who is
little concerned to mitigate contradictions’. More important for his own as
well as for our purposes, Plekhanov borrowed
in the other direction as well and attempted
to enhance Marx’s social theory with concepts
and theories lifted from, or at least inspired
by Darwinian teachings. 

The result was expressed in two subtle but
extremely important innovations which Plekhanov
introduced into the Marxist schema.
The first involved Marx’s materialist interpretation
of social phenomena. Marx had asserted that all aspects of human social
existence were firmly rooted in the material
conditions in which this society exists. These
conditions were manifested first and foremost
in the manner in which society secures this
existence, in other words the means of production.
All other aspects of social life-forms
of political organization, cultural patterns,
even intellectual and aesthetic activity-he
characterized as an "Uberbau” or superstructure
which was entirely determined by this
material base. Accepting this materialist
scheme, Plekhanov attempted, as Matley notes, to “take the analysis a step
further than Marx himself did” by forging yet
one additional link onto the chain of determining
factors Marx had envisioned. Marx had been concerned above all with establishing
how human society and culture were conditioned
by the economic base upon which the
society rested. Plekhanov went on to consider
the more fundamental problem as to what factor
was responsible for conditioning or determining
the character of this economic base


Mark Bassin, “Geographical Determinism in Fin-de-siecle Marxism: Georgii Plekhanov and the
Environmental Basis of Russian History.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 82, No. 1 (Mar., 1992), pp. 4-6.

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